6,436 Johnson County educators want KPERS funded, a defined benefit plan, promises kept
Because their voices are not being heard, teachers from five Johnson County school districts organized a petition drive to let lawmakers know how they feel about KPERS – the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System.
“We want a defined benefit plan and we want the system funded,” they said. “Thousands of school employees agree.” Today teachers are delivering a binder containing over 6,400 names by position, building, and district to each of the 22 state representatives and the seven state senators from Johnson County, and the Governor.
“We hope our Johnson County legislators will support the interest of thousands of their constituents,” said the teachers.
The teachers are Nancy Fritz, library media specialist in Shawnee Mission; Bev Furlong, kindergarten teacher at Sunflower Elementary in Gardner; Jean Goodman, art teacher at Benninghoven Elementary in Shawnee Mission; Nikki Leisten, 5th grade teacher at Belmont Elementary in Shawnee; Kate Thompson, library media specialist at Olathe Northwest High School; Georann Whitman, vocal music teacher at Spring Hill High School; and Julie Woerdehoff, English teacher at Lexington Trail Middle School in DeSoto.
The 6,346 who signed are public school employees from throughout Johnson County who work as teachers, secretaries, food service workers, administrators, custodians, paraeducators, clerks and maintenance workers in every building in Unified School District 230 Spring Hill, USD 231 Gardner Edgerton, USD 232 DeSoto, USD 233 Olathe, and USD 512 Shawnee Mission. The signatures were collected over a two-week period last month.
“The 6,436 public school employees who signed these petitions have been concerned that their voices have not been heard on this issue,” said Georann Whitman, Spring Hill. “It is our hope that our Kansas Legislators will fulfill their legal, moral and ethical obligation to adequately fund and maintain the current defined benefit retirement system for all its employees.”
“Every Kansas student deserves the most talented and capable teachers. A fully funded retirement system helps to insure that Kansas teachers will continue to teach in Kansas throughout their careers, thereby providing Kansas students with the very best education,” said Kate Thompson, Olathe.
“I am worried about the future of the teaching profession. Teachers have never gone into the profession thinking they were going to earn salaries comparable to doctors or lawyers, yet their jobs are just as important, maybe more so, because if we can't hire or keep excellent teachers, we will not have excellent doctors or attorneys,” said Nancy Fritz, Shawnee Mission. “The state retirement system has always been a defined benefit that could help compensate educators for their many years of public service. KPERS needs to remain a defined benefit that is properly funded. We teachers need to know that KPERS will be there for us.”
“I want to ensure that I have a solid retirement in place when that day comes, as do the teachers that I represent from the De Soto School District. I also want to protect those who will enter the teaching profession in the future to ensure that they, too, have a solid retirement in place here in Kansas,” said Nikki Leisten, Shawnee.
“I think our legislators have a duty to uphold the long-standing Kansas tradition of excellent public schools. They can do this by honoring all public school employees with a retirement plan that is fully funded as a defined benefit system,” said Bev Furlong, Gardner.
“Teachers and public employees have kept their obligation to fund their retirement while the Kansas Legislature has failed to fully fund their share,” said Jean Goodman, Shawnee Mission. “It is time for the lawmakers to fulfill their obligation -- keep the defined benefit system and fund it appropriately.”
“We are here to speak for the thousands of people we represent. When thousands of people speak collectively they should be listened to and their ideas considered. Those thousands of people are simply asking that all public school employees – today, tomorrow, and forever – are given the guarantee of a defined retirement benefit,” Julie Woerdehoff, DeSoto. “We would like to encourage other Kansas public school employees to let their voices be heard by contacting their legislators. Together our collective voice will show our greatest desire is to work together to provide the benefit that all public school employees deserve.”
The teachers said the Kansas Legislature’s failure to adequately support KPERS for the past two decades has helped create the significant unfunded KPERS liability which is now being used as an excuse to sacrifice the security of public employees’ retirement years. The KPERS Commission recommendations will eliminate a stable pension program for non-vested and future public school employees. It will leave veteran school employees in an ever decreasing pool with ever decreasing contributions. The recommendations foretell a frightening scenario for the retirement years of public school employees, they said.
“We encourage the Legislature and the Governor to support legislation that not only addresses the unfunded liability but also meets our interests of maintaining a defined benefit plan for all public school employees and adequately funds KPERS in the future,” the teachers said. “In short, it keeps the promise made to us by the State of Kansas.”