Legislative issues – primarily funding and pension reform – are the primary topic of discussion at KSBA’s 2017 Fall Regional Meetings, which kicked off in late August with two meetings in western Kentucky.
Board team members at First and Second region meetings voiced their concerns about losing SEEK funding due to decreases in enrollment and local tax revenue with population loss.
“The biggest issue that affects us all right now is funding related issues,” Dawson Springs Independent Superintendent Leonard Whalen said. “The pension reform is going to be major – a lot of folks have great concern about that. We’ve got a lot of public servants that have essentially given their life to students and our communities, and the pension system and them being able to live comfortably and survive once their working years are over, I think’s very important for everyone involved.”
KSBA Governmental Relations Director Eric Kennedy (right) talks to State Rep.
Melinda Gibbons Prunty at the Fall Regional Meeting in Webster County.
Hickman County school board Chairman Allen Kyle, who has spent nearly three decades on the board, said Hickman County has set the tax rate to increase revenue by 4 percent every year since 2008.
“Unfortunately money’s the driving force especially in the small districts that we have – we’re losing our population, we’re losing our students,” Kyle added.
He said while districts have more money than in years past, “all the costs have gone up and the shared responsibilities have gone out of sight for local school districts.”
“We get more money but there’s more demands on the system now and I think we had – I don’t think we had a better system, but we had more flexibility in how we spent our money,” he said.
Fulton County school board Chairman Barry Patrick said the loss in population for Fulton County is putting a strain on his district. “We’ve got to be able to maintain our position and I don’t know how much longer we can do that if they add any more to us.”
He noted there are many unknowns about how pension reform will affect local school districts and “if we’re not included in a more general funding design, it’s going to be very difficult for us to compete and actually keep our status.”
“We’ve got to keep more of a mainstream funding trail, and if we don’t get that we’re not going to be able to make up the difference and I think that’s what people were really speaking about tonight,” Patrick said. “If we have mandated fundings that we’re not going to be able to fulfill our end of the bargain, then what options do our kids have? That’s what we’re really looking at is what are our kids going to be able to do if we’re not here.”
Ohio County board member Karen Boling says pension reform is a “very critical issue and our teachers deserve better.”
“Nobody has an easy job that is a state employee or a teacher or a superintendent,” she said. “And you forgo a better pay grade in order to have retirement and if that’s taken away from them, what incentives do we have to get good personnel?”
During each meeting, KSBA’s Governmental Relations Director Eric Kennedy discusses legislative topics that board members need to be aware of, shares results from KSBA’s statewide survey and uses instant polling to gather more feedback on a few of the issues.
KSBA received a record number of responses to its statewide survey this year. The responses will help KSBA with its lobbying efforts during the 2018 General Assembly.
“I think what a lot of the responses have shown is that we all have a lot of the same concerns,” Whalen said. “Anytime you see the responses up 80, 90 percent that strongly agree or agree, or strongly disagree or disagree, one way or the other I think that shows a consensus amongst our group that we all have pretty significant concerns in those particular areas.”
Webster County school board Vice Chairman Mickey Dunbar agreed.
“I think it helps to show that we have a united front especially when we share some commonalities on those issues that ‘Hey, it’s not just one area or region of the state that this has a concern with it.’ We all have a concern and we all are coming together as one voice,” Dunbar said.
Added McCracken County board member Kelly Walker: “I think it’s incredibly important where you come to a consensus as a legislature and they hear what we’re needing in our communities.”
Board view: “You realize you’re not alone”
Fulton County school board Chairman Barry Patrick said KSBA’s Fall Regional Meetings are encouraging because “you realize you’re not alone.”
“We’re able to meet together, hear about our concerns and it kind of resonates with people that are around us because this is our area and we know our area better than anybody,” Patrick said. “It’s nice to know that they’re actually providing an outlet for us by doing these regional meetings like this.”
Webster County school board Vice Chairman Mickey Dunbar said the meeting was a great opportunity to share some commonalities and “to talk legislatively to see what’s going on in Frankfort to give us all a better idea of things that are coming up.”
“I think it’s imperative that we keep up with what’s going on in Frankfort for legislation that’s coming down the pipe for how it will affect our governance, our funding – two large issues,” he said. “Also it needs to show to where we don’t have an adversarial relationship. We know our representatives, we can talk to them in a casual conversation and let them know we’re not against them, we’re for them, but we do have some concerns we need to voice to them that they can take back to the state house and work on, on our behalf.”