Editorial: Teachers’ retirement system is vital to Perry County

Gov. Matt Bevin posted a video message to social media on Aug. 31 to defend his position on the future of the pension fund for teachers in Kentucky. In the video, Bevin stands in front of Perry County Central High School as he speaks.
Bevin was in Hazard that day to address non-education related issues. However, his choice to use Perry Central as the backdrop of a video message about the fragile state of the pension fund for Kentucky teachers was appropriate because the decisions made in Frankfort concerning this issue will have a drastic effect on, not only Perry County’s school system, but also the future of Perry County’s economy as a whole.
The public school system has become one of the top employers in Perry County. However, with Perry County’s population steadily dropping due to the decline of coal jobs and a depressed economy, the demand to create new teaching positions is low. The best chance a college graduate will have of landing a teaching job in Perry County next year hinges on the number of teachers in Perry County who retire this year.
The option of retiring early is not merely a perk for Kentucky’s educators. Last spring, the Perry County Board of Education discussed the cut in funding the district received from the unmined mineral tax and ways the board could possibly make sure all of the faculty from the three schools consolidating into West Perry Elementary kept their jobs, despite the decrease in funding. The board discussed the number of teachers retiring and indicated that those retirements would help open the positions necessary to ensure the funding cut did not equal a high number of layoffs.
For each young teacher not able to find a job in Perry County, the local economy loses the contributions of another paycheck. The majority of teachers, who have worked locally throughout their entire careers, remain living in Perry County after retirement. Their retirement checks also remain as a contributor to the local economy. Yet the school system needs to hire a replacement for the retired teacher. Therefore, when a teacher retires, one paycheck helping to feed the local economy often multiplies into two paychecks, one from the retired teacher and another from the new teacher hired to replace the retiree.
When young teachers begin careers in Perry County, they usually build families here too, meaning a spouse with a paycheck contributing to the local economy and children enrolled in the local school system. Fewer teachers working here means less children enrolled here. The process of implosion has begun and the factors government leaders highlight to be harmful to our economy increase, with the primary factor being young people migrating away because they cannot find jobs here.
In his video message, Bevin illustrates the complexities of Kentucky’s pension crisis and the need for appropriate action immediately. Bevin is right. The problem is real and action is necessary. If the entire system collapses, our teachers and state workers will face severe issues.
However, Bevin also pledges his compassion and devotion to teachers in his message. Here in Perry County, we hope that compassion and devotion equals preservation of the retirement system we have established because our teachers in Perry County serve as the foundation for a brighter tomorrow in more ways than one. Not only do they equip our children with the tools of a quality education, but they also feed our economy, an economy that is already fragile.

Editorial: Perry’s people

As the publisher of the Hazard Herald, I want to express my gratitude to the community.
When our company had the opportunity to obtain the assets of the Hazard Herald, I implored our company to jump at the chance. Every time I’m in Hazard and Perry County, that it was a good decision is confirmed.
Since we started in Hazard, I found a group of employees who were being held back from doing what we do best, and that is supplying the community with the most creditable local news, sports and information.
The employees at the Hazard Herald are the epitome of the grit of not only Hazard and Perry County but Eastern Kentucky as a whole. The passion they have for their community is immense.
In the last few weeks I have met many people: the mayor, judge-executive, chamber president, economic development coordinator, mother of the owner of the BBQ restaurant, many readers, customers and average hard-working people. What I have found is that Perry County has the resources in its people to thrive. There is innovation, energy and passion for success.
I’m sure that, in the past, there have been issues, which may be carried over into the present day. But that’s where we come in. Our commitment to you is to be a watchdog of your elected officials and tax dollars.
Last week our reporter Sam Neace, went to the county school board meeting and they wanted to institute a tax increase of more than 32 percent. That headline in the Hazard Herald sparked enough outrage that the measure was tabled. It gets deeper than that but Sam will be on top of that developing story.
The only place that information was reported was in the Hazard Herald and thanks to our staff, who reported the issue fairly and without bias, the community spoke up and the measure was thwarted, for now.
Our job is to keep an eye out for these kinds of tactics and report the truth so the community can express their opinion. On that note, please feel free to send us letters that we can publish. Letters to the editor are published at no cost and they need to be expressed.
We will continue to cover all government meetings, including the county, the cities, library, schools and any other entity that receives tax dollars. We are committed to transparency, which will be welcomed or not by the public officials. Either way, you will know who is willing to be transparent.
I met with the schools, Hazard and Perry Central, and met their principals and vice principals. They welcomed me to their schools and their community. They are cautiously optimistic, as they should be. We will earn their trust and their respect as we go along.
Last week we published pictures of the girl’s golf team from Hazard and I made a mistake, which the mayor promptly pointed out. I spelled his granddaughter’s name wrong. That is corrected in this edition.
We have a reporter working with the schools to inform the public of the creative young minds that Perry has to offer. We hired a full-time sports reporter who will be at the games and fill the sports pages with photos and stories highlighting local athletes.
As we continue this process, please know that you have an open line of communication. You can email or call. If you call, speak to Jenny at, 436-5771. Jenny has been with this newspaper for many years and is a pillar of the community.
Thank you for allowing us to be a part of this community and we look forward to telling the stories and supplying the most credible news, sports and information to Hazard and Perry County.

Editorial: The price is high when the system is stacked

The Perry County Board of Education’s decision to go with a compensating tax rate is reflective of a major problem facing citizens in coalfield communities. People are leaving and, once they are gone, so are their tax dollars. Unless we can find a way to stimulate the economy soon, the burden will become too much to carry for those who are desperately longing to hold onto life in the coalfield.
The problem is, we are already economically depressed. On top of our financial turmoil, we are also dealing with a system that is stacked against us.
In order for a school to receive public funding, it must meet the state’s requirements for enrollment. It does not matter if a community’s school scores distinguished on every test. If the enrollment is not what it needs to be, the school will close. A public school that scores low proficient but has large enrollment is actually better off than a school that scores high distinguished with small enrollment. So, as people move away to find jobs, rural school districts are left with only one option. They must consolidate to survive.
However, consolidation presents a catch 22 for school districts in the mountains. They have to consolidate to receive funding, yet the process of consolidation costs money. It is as if they have to spend a dollar before they can make a dime.
When a child’s family moves away from the community, enrollment at the local school drops, meaning the school receives less money. On top of that, the district also loses the tax dollars that were coming from that family. After so many families move, the district is left with very few options other than to raise taxes and consolidate schools.
If you live at the head of a hollow in Southeastern Kentucky, a bus will transport your child to and from school. If there are 10 other children living on the hollow, the bus picks them up too. Everyone in the hollow is paying school tax, which is essentially the same as chipping in on gas for the bus. However, if all 10 families living there move away, the bus will continue to drive to your house. The bus uses no less gas but it is picking up 10 fewer passengers.
Now, on top of all this, throw in funding cuts from unmined mineral and coal severance taxes. Eventually, the situation could become drastic enough to where the bus will not drive to the head of the hollow even if you have enough money for gas because the district will not be able to afford paying the driver.
There are several reasons why none of this is fair. For folks in the coalfield, it seems as if the state and federal government has created a system that is completely rigged in favor of the big cities.
Raising taxes is unpopular for both the people who pay the taxes and the officials who oversee the tax dollars. Our children deserve the best resources possible. Therefore, in a system stacked the way ours is in Kentucky, and with less revenue coming into the district from sources such as unmined mineral tax, the compensated tax rate might be a necessary option. We will gauge the results as time goes by. In the meantime, the Board of Education must use every penny of tax money collected to make sure our children receive the best education possible and our district remains competitive with other districts across the state. A quality education for our children is the greatest resource and the greatest hope for coalfields communities.

Editorial: Keep politics out of healthcare

The healthcare roundtable discussion hosted by Sen. Rand Paul at the Wendell Ford Airport last Monday was attended by several members of the community including leaders in the healthcare field and local business owners.
Paul’s plan would place those people on individual policies into group policies. His plan would have those people on individual plans to gain membership to associations to places like the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and then have that association bargain for a group plan for its members.
Paul also mentioned the need to have open, honest debates about healthcare.
There were no insults thrown during the discussion. Some of the healthcare leaders had legitimate questions for Paul and he did his best to answer those questions.
The United States has become a nation divided between conservatives and liberals, between left and right beyond. Just check the Facebook comments made on national and local media links. One side calls the other a name and it spirals out of control from there. Instead of having thoughtful debates, it boils down to who can insult the other with the most colorful language. Nothing is solved this way. This hatred has come to the point where friends and neighbors are separated by their politics. This hurts our community when one side believes the other isn’t a part of the community because of their politics.
This leads to liberals calling conservatives heartless for not wanting a single-payer healthcare system and conservatives telling liberals that they are nothing but a bunch of free-loading socialists.
It’s pointless fighting and detracts from the real debate on how we can improve our healthcare system. We need to keep politics out of healthcare.
While it is ultimately up to state and federal legislators as to what type of healthcare this country will have, our community needs to come together and help the elderly, sick and less fortunate locally.
There are numerous solutions at the federal, state and even local levels. We don’t have to be a divided community. We need to lay off the personal attacks and realize that our neighbors and community members are like us: they have friends and family that they love, they go to work or school, and they contribute to our community by paying taxes.
We need to move past this “us versus them” mentality. Life is too short and precious to waste it on political divisions.

Editorial: It is okay to like the new school
A new era will begin for several hundred students in Perry County on Aug. 17, as they officially become West Perry Warriors. Many students, staff and parents have voiced excitement for the new facility. However, opposition to the school’s construction has also been strong.
Before everyone can come together in uniform support of West Perry Elementary, two things must happen. First, the community needs to understand that those opposed to the school’s opening are not merely older generations longing to hold onto the schools they attended when they were young.
Three schools have closed as a result of West Perry’s establishment. Willard Elementary served as the epicenter of the small community where it was located. Last year, Willard produced the state championship STLP team. Willard school consisted of students from the Willard community and those kids gave the community every reason to feel a sense of pride. The STLP state championship was only one example of Willard’s kids making a small community shine in a way that would be difficult to do without the school. Those students will remain just as bright and talented at the new school, but now their accomplishments will not be attributed to merely the small community where generations of their families have lived.
A.B. Combs was once the largest elementary school in Perry County. Community events were regularly held at the school throughout the past four decades. The gymnasium and trophy case ran out of room for all of the banners and trophies. The elementary school scored the highest level of Distinguished on last year’s tests. The number of professionals from A.B. Combs in the local workforce would be difficult to count.
The Chavies community thought they were receiving a new school a few years ago. As it turned out, their school closed to help form West Perry. Parents, staff and even local government officials spoke to the Perry County Board of Education during a special meeting to protest the school district’s change of plans. The folks in Chavies went from preparing for a brand new school in their community to having the doors of the school in their community close forever. The residents in all three of the communities who are joining together to form West Perry have legitimate reasons for feeling the sting of loss.
The second thing that must happen for everyone to finally unite in support of the new school is acceptance of the truth. Consolidation is the only way Perry County schools can receive the funding they need from the state to keep up with modern demands in education. The state now allocates funds based on enrollment. This method favors metropolitan schools over rural schools, like most regulations do, but for now, there is little anyone can do to change the situation. About all we can do in Southeastern Kentucky is join forces. Thus, East Perry opened a few years ago. West Perry is opening this year. South Perry is coming within the next few years and, once South Perry is built, R.W. Combs, Viper and Leatherwood schools will close.
The good news is that West Perry is state-of-the art in a way that only a new facility could be. One of West Perry’s major focuses in, not only curriculum, but, also design, is STLP education. So, those students with STLP state championship talents will now have the tools necessary to possibly hone those talents into careers at NASA, or even better, careers developing aerospace technologies right here at home. These modern advances exist for other areas of study as well.
The trophy case at West Perry is empty for now, but as it begins to fill, the achievements will include extra-curricular activities in which the students who win the awards would not have had the opportunity to participate at the smaller schools. As time goes by, each community’s sense of pride will consolidate as well.
The closing of the three schools that are consolidating to form West Perry has, without a doubt, left a void in each community. However, the new school will provide new opportunities for our kids. Ultimately, the kids are what it is all about, and an opportunity is all they need.