Sunday, September 19, 2004

Teachers set to picket


They want better health benefits

By Andrea Remke
Enquirer staff writer

Some area teachers could be taking to the picket line soon.

The Kentucky Education Association's decision to call for a statewide protest in school districts across the state on Sept. 27 has many people fired up.

The KEA decision comes after a meeting in Frankfort late Friday in which the association board of directors gave the governor an "ultimatum" that he help teachers and public school employees get better health benefits.

The governor's proposed public employee health insurance plan, which affects thousands of state employees, teachers and public school workers, would have many employees paying more in deductibles and co-payments in 2005.

Stephen Rottman, a welding teacher for technical courses in Kenton County Schools, said in his 34 years of being an educator, he's seen many complaints, but this one is serious.

"I don't think teachers are going to back down," he said.

Rottman and his wife, a Campbell County teacher, are some of the many state employees who have joined an online petition sponsored by the Kentucky Association for State Employees voicing opposition to the governor's plan. The petition has more than 1,100 names on it.

"This is not an easy fix," Rottman said. "I'm just frustrated," he said. "The governor promised this was one of the items he was going to fix, and he's not doing it."

No one at Fletcher's communications office could be reached Saturday. A press release issued Friday from Fletcher's office stated the governor wants to keep the lines of communication open. However, "it would be inappropriate to negotiate if they choose to promote an illegal strike," the statement read. "No illegal strike or other organized job action can be justified... An illegal strike or work stoppage would be harmful to our children."

According to KEA President Frances Steenbergen, the organization wants state employees' and teachers' health insurance benefits restored to the 2004 plan with employee contribution rates comparable to surrounding states.

KEA officials also said they wanted the open enrollment period, which now ends Oct. 15, to be extended for 15 days after an agreement is reached to allow members more time to sign up.

Steenbergen said that an indefinite strike for all school employees will be called starting Oct. 27, "if needs are not met."

Boone County Board of Education Chairman Ed Massey said the district would likely close school on Sept. 27 so teachers can walk.

"It's a problem that's got to be fixed," he said. "We're supportive of our teachers and the dilemma they are facing."

Massey said this is a "real crisis in education" and that an indefinite strike "does pose more concerns."

"But when arguments fall on deaf ears, we have to take action to be heard," he said.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Rottman said the majority of teachers he's heard from have said they will walk.

"We just can't afford this," he said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

E-mail aremke@enquirer.com




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