Teacher: Sick leave not what’s breaking the system

Dear editor,

In the past few weeks we have heard Gov. Bevin talk about the many changes he hopes to see regarding the current Teacher Retirement System. Time and time again he has claimed that teachers are “gaming the system” by “hoarding sick days” leading me to believe that he will push for a change in our current benefits. While there are many recommendations from the PFM Report that concern me, the attack on our sick days most threatens my livelihood.

I was diagnosed with cancer just after my first year of teaching. Since then I have been through multiple surgeries and treatments, and am currently on my third clinical trial. Needless to say, I do not have any sick days to hoard. When I first heard Gov. Bevin make the claim of teachers hoarding sick days and “sticking it to the taxpayer,” I wondered just what he thought the ideal situation looked like. Was it me, a cancer survivor using up all of my days so quickly that I don’t have any to hoard? Does he want to see teachers using sick days so quickly that we can’t “hoard” them? Of course not. While I disagree with him on multiple fronts, I will not pretend that a sick teacher is the solution that he is looking for. However, that only leaves one option.

The PFM Report’s recommendations call for cutting many of the incentives we currently have to not use our sick days. Whether this is a cut to the incentives retirees receive for unused sick time, reduction in sick days we receive yearly or a cut to the “rollover” of sick time, any of these options will significantly impact my life as well as thousands of teachers across Kentucky.

Gov. Bevin claims that our current sick leave benefits are hurting our pension system. In reality, these incentives are only a small portion of our pension benefits. Sick day incentives are not the issue. Our current sick leave benefits are not breaking the system, but a change would detrimentally hurt teachers like me. Please contact your state representative and state senator and urge them to keep, in our pension system, the incentives not to use our sick days.

Kim Phelps

Marshall County Education Association Vice President