Schools will be open Monday, as protests take different turn

September 22, 2004|TODD KLEFFMAN

The call from the Kentucky Education Association to muster its troops to close schools Monday in protest of increased health insurance costs is not being answered by area school districts.

Superintendents of the Danville, Lincoln, Casey, Garrard, Mercer, Burgin and Harrodsburg districts have all decided to hold classes as scheduled Monday, though most districts are allowing some employees to take the day off to educate themselves and the public about their plight.

"We're going to do all we can in support of our employees, we're just not sure that shutting down our schools is the best response at this point," said Lincoln County Superintendent Teresa Wallace, whose comments were echoed by other area school chiefs.

The Boyle County Board of Education is holding a special meeting Thursday night to discuss the matter. Renee Yates, a KEA board member and teacher at Junction City Elementary, said she is resurveying district employees before that meeting to gauge support for taking a day of protest on Monday and will report the results to the board.


A survey conducted last week showed 66 Boyle employees voting against a strike and 63 voting in support of such an action. Less than a third of the district's employees responded to the first poll, leading Yates to conduct another survey this week that she hopes will be more representative of the district's sentiments.

After a lengthy meeting in Frankfort, KEA board members voted Saturday to call for schools across the state to be closed Monday as a demonstration against Gov. Ernie Fletcher's changes to state employees' health coverage plan that would cause costs to rise beyond employees' pay increases. The KEA also called for an extended strike beginning Oct. 27 if negotiations with Fletcher failed to resolve the issue.

On Tuesday, Fletcher called for a special session of the legislature next month to deal with concerns over health insurance raised by school employees and other state workers.

As of this morning, only seven of Kentucky's 176 school districts have decided to call off classes on Monday, with 60 districts - including Jefferson County, where educators have led the charge for a strike - announcing they will hold school as scheduled, said Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association. The remaining districts have yet to announce their plans.

"I think with the (Jefferson County Teachers Association) not calling off classes and the governor calling for a special session, I think that's kind of taken the steam out of this Monday protest," Hughes said. "That doesn't mean the Oct. 27 thing is going to go by the wayside. That's a completely different matter."

Too short notice on call for day of protest

Many area superintendents said that the KEA's call for a day of protest Monday gave them too short notice to amend their school calendars and be sure that all parents got the word. Danville Superintendent Bob Rowland said that he and board members decided to hold classes Monday, among other reasons, because of safety concerns over the possibility that some parents might not be aware schools were closed and drop their kids off with no one to supervise them.

"We are not supporting any kind of job action, and we are expecting everyone to be here going about their business on Monday morning," Rowland said.

Many districts agreed to honor the spirit of the protest by allowing some employees to take the day off to work on issues related to health insurance.

In Casey County, Superintendent Linda Hatter said the district's three KEA representatives and a designated person from each of the county's eight schools will meet with the district's payroll clerk to learn more about how Fletcher's changes will affect school employees.

"A lot of people are still uncertain about what all this means," Hatter said. "This will give each building representative a chance to learn more about it and then go back to their schools and share it with everyone else."

In Garrard County and Harrodsburg schools, designated employees will be allowed to miss classes to attend rallies, meet with legislators or otherwise work on insurance-related issues. In Mercer County, teachers will be available in the foyers of each school from noon until the end of classes Monday to discuss the situation with members of the public.

"We all have some serious problems with the lack of importance and value our leaders seem to give public education and there is a lot of concern about health insurance costs," said Mercer Superintendent Bruce Johnson. "The employees don't want to disrupt the learning process by taking the day off, but they do want to educate the public about what's going on. Eventually, these problems will have to be solved with elections. We have to go to the voting booth and support more candidates who place more value on public education."

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