By Valarie Honeycutt Spears, Mike Stunson And Karla Ward
With a controversial pension reform bill now signed into law and Gov. Matt Bevin's veto of bills covering the state budget and tax overhaul, public educators are again gearing up to make their voices heard in the state Capitol.
Fayette County's public schools are joining the school districts of Garrard, Bullitt, Scott, Christian and Trimble counties in closing Friday, which is when state legislators return to Frankfort to begin the final two days of their 2018 session. Educators hope to implore them to override the Bevin vetos.
Fayette Superintenent Manny Caulk said he would ask school board members to forgive the day off so students would not have to make it up, still leaving the final day of the 2017-18 school year as May 31.
"I believe in public schools," Caulk said. "I am a living testament to the difference a great teacher can make in the life of a child and I want that same positive experience for all of our FCPS students. It's discouraging that our current political climate has made supporting public education a divisive issue."
"Our teachers and support staff have answered the call to advocate for students by encouraging our lawmakers to fully fund education and invest in school safety and mental health services. I have heard from many of them who want to continue that effort by going to Frankfort on Friday," Caulk said.
Meanwhile, Fayette County Education Association President Jessica Hiler is calling for a second round of walk-in protests by teachers at schools in Lexington on Thursday. She said the protests could either be before or after school as the walk-ins were in March.
"We want to send the message to our legislators to override the governor's veto of House Bill 200 and House Bill 366, the budget and revenue bills," Hiler said.
In Scott County, school employees "plan to answer a statewide call to action in Frankfort on Friday," the district announced on Facebook. Scott's last day of school will remain May 25.
Garrard County School officials in a Wednesday post said educators were not heading to Frankfort "for selfish reasons."
"We are to advocate for our children and for public education," said the post.
Bullitt County School Superintendent Keith Davis announced Wednesday on the district's Facebook page that it was closing Friday "due to a lack of sufficient substitute teachers."
On Christian County Public Schools' website, officials said the district was closing Friday "in order" for all voices to be heard.
Monday night, Trimble County announced it was canceling classes and will not require a make-up day.
Schools in Bell, Floyd, Letcher, Lincoln, Mercer, Owen and Pike counties will also be closed on Friday, according to WKYT, the Herald-Leader's reporting partner. Middlesboro Independent and Pineville Independent were also listed as being closed Friday.
Meanwhile, the advocacy group Pike County Strong has asked teachers to call in sick Thursday night so that schools will close on Friday.
The Jefferson County Teachers Association took to Facebook on Tuesday and urged its members to call their legislators, asking them to override the governor's vetoes on the budget and tax reform legislation.
"Neither bill is perfect, but together they add hundreds of millions of dollars to public education, allowing pensions to be fully funded, education cuts to be restored, and health insurance to be funded. So having both is essential at this point," the association said on Facebook.
On April 2, educators in many districts called in sick, forcing schools without enough staff to close. Other districts were closed for spring break. The teachers attended a massive rally in Frankfort in protest of a bill that made changes to the state's cash-strapped public pension systems.
Fayette County's Caulk said students and families who rely on food backpack programs will receive those services on Thursday. He said parents would receive information from schools regarding afternoon and evening student activities for Friday such as concerts, plays and dances. District honors band will continue as scheduled.
Caulk said if the school board agrees that students don't have to make up Friday, graduation would continue as scheduled on May 31 and June 1.
(c)2018 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)