Senate Overcomes Bipartisan Opposition to Pass Bill Altering Sick-Leave Pay for Teacher Retirees

Senate Overcomes Bipartisan Opposition to Pass Bill Altering Sick-Leave Pay for Teacher Retirees

Senate Bill 4’s sponsor, Sen. Jimmy Higdon, claims that by altering sick leave compensation moving ahead, the bill will assist ensure teacher retirements in the future. (Public Information from LRC)

FRANKFORT: While some Senate Republicans sided with Democrats in opposing a plan that would alter Kentucky teachers’ retirement benefits for accrued sick time, the legislation garnered sufficient votes on Wednesday to pass.

While some Democrats contended that the changes would force more teachers to use their sick leave throughout the school year rather than lose it, increasing the need for substitute teachers in school districts, some Republicans contended that Senate Bill 4 was essential to guarantee the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) could continue to pay retired teachers in the future.

The bill, if it becomes law, would cap the amount paid for unused sick leave days accrued after June 30, 2024, to ten days each academic year. All public school districts were required to submit the annual sick leave balances of their eligible employees to the TRS after July 1st of this year. At retirement, thirty percent of the value of these days is currently paid in compensation.

By a vote of 24 to 12, Senate Bill 4 was approved. Along with the seven Senate Democrats, Republican senators Jared Carpenter, Matthew Deneen, Stephen Meredith, Brandon Smith, and Johnnie Turner voted against the bill.

Senate Overcomes Bipartisan Opposition to Pass Bill Altering Sick-Leave Pay for Teacher Retirees (1)

The plan will restore TRS’s stability in the future, according to Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown, who also described it as “pro-teacher,” “pro-retired teachers,” and prospective retirees.

Referring to a type of special appropriation, Thayer stated, “If we don’t make this change sometime in the future, this General Assembly is going to have to come up with another half a billion dollars that’ll pay off more green box dollars to pay off this unfunded liability to help us get to solvency.”

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, a Republican from Lebanon who is the bill’s sponsor, stated on the floor that sick days for teachers would not be reduced or eliminated under the measure. He expressed worry about future retirement funding. According to him, TRS saw a $900 million negative cash flow last year.

“This involves gazing into the future to ensure that every educator currently employed has a check waiting for them when they retire,” Higdon stated.

Senate Bill 4 would have a minor effect on savings because “nearly all districts currently provide no more than ten (10) sick leave for teachers (administrators on year contracts receive a few extra days),” according to a letter from TRS to the Legislative Research Commission dated February 7.

The letter stated, “There would be no material impact (on) the actuarial liability of the system.” For the purposes of retirement calculations, the approximate current cost of sick leave is 1.24% of payroll, or around $52 million annually. The application of sick leave as service credit, which is covered by employers rather than the state, accounts for a little percentage of this expense.

Sen. Reggie Thomas of Lexington, the chair of the Democratic Caucus, stated that if the bill is put into effect, there may be a greater demand for substitute teachers around the state. According to him, educators brought up the subject of teachers’ entitlement to continue enjoying this perk that they had accrued over time during last week’s Senate State and Local Government Committee meeting.

One of the most ridiculous things we’ve heard this session, according to Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican from Ryland Heights, is the idea that the bill “in some way is a dagger.” He clarified that administrators who might take extra sick days would be impacted by the law, not the typical rank-and-file instructors.

According to McDaniel, “sick days were always meant to be for when folks were sick.” Furthermore, Senate plan 205, introduced by Senator Lindsey Tichenor, a Republican from Smithfield, would supplement Higdon’s plan by granting school district employees 20 days of maternity leave. As of Wednesday, the bill she filed on Tuesday had not been reassigned to a committee.

Kindergarten teacher Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County Education Association, stated last week at the committee hearing that she took early use of her sick leave to care for her children or for maternity leave, as is customary for teachers in Kentucky.

“We can start rebuilding our leave time as we get ready for retirement as our kids get older,” the woman stated. “The incentive to preserve rather than use those leave days at the end of our career is knowing that they have value, which keeps our talented and experienced educators in the classroom with our kids every day.”

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