Kentucky Voices on Education and Pensions: Christina Frederick-Trosper
Fifteen years into her teaching career, Christina Frederick-Trosper may have to leave the community where she has grown up and worked.
In Knox County, like most of rural Kentucky, the public school systems are the largest employer. Truseal— the town’s second largest employer — announced it would shutter its plant in 2011.
With Gov. Bevin’s promised upcoming budget cuts to public education and his contentious changes to Kentucky teachers’ pensions systems, Barbourville’s economy will be decimated, and with it, the schools systems’ financial stability.
The cooks, the bus drivers, the teachers and contract workers in every one of Kentucky’s mountain counties, Frederick-Trosper said, will feel the hit from Frankfort Republicans. People are angry.
During a town hall meeting, Republican Senate President Robert Stivers explained the proposed structural changes Gov. Bevin and Republicans like Stivers want to make to the Kentucky teachers’ pension system, she couldn’t remain silent any longer.
Like other teachers, state workers, law enforcement officers and firefighters, over the last 15 years, she and her husband have paid their share of pension contributions. She got out her seat and went into the hall. She tried to calm herself but couldn’t. She didn’t have tears of anger or sadness, Christina said. They were tears of hopelessness.
She went back into the forum, stood up and spoke. Frederick-Trosper asked Stivers, who had used surplus pension money to erect a community center in his name, why she had paid into her pension like all the other teachers in attendance, but he and the Legislature chose not to fund the pensions. She didn't believe structural changes needed to be made midgame. In fiscal year 2016, the teachers pension system was 54.6 funded.
“For too long, I felt like we have taken people at face value — our politicians — that we have trusted them to speak for us and that’s not happening,” Frederick-Trosper said. “This is something that is going to directly impact my family. It’s something that’s going to impact my community.
“It just broke my heart that someone could sit there and act like that I was somehow ungrateful for what I had been given — that I somehow didn’t deserve what I was promised in the beginning with my pension. That killed me because I knew what I do every day and my colleagues do every day.
“The smugness of Sen. Stivers — it just ran all over me. It broke my heart for the people in the room. People who are die-hard Republicans that love Matt Bevin love Sen. Stivers were coming up to me and said ‘Never again. I’ll never support him. I will not support this governor if they continue to do this to us.’”
Like many that could be affected by the pension changes, Frederick-Trosper told Stivers she is well aware of what will happen to her pension fund if she is forced to go into a 401 (k)-style plan. The downturn in the market after the housing bubble collapse took thousands of dollars from her mother’s 401 (k) retirement fund, which she will never recover.
A video of that night has been shared on social media over 3,000 times between Twitter and Facebook with 251,000 views.
“All we want to know is what are you going to do, why are you going to do it and why have you not been transparent? You’ve been working on it for three months,” Frederick-Trosper said. “We’ve not seen one thing. We (teachers) are going on rumors because you want it that way. You planned it that way.”
At issue is their livelihood, their communities, the children they teach and develop relationships with every day, Frederick-Trosper railed. It’s no exaggeration, the move will kill public education in rural Kentucky. Teachers will leave the small mountain communities, possibly relocating to another state like Tennessee, she said, where they can make more money, have stability.
She has taught 10th graders at Knox County college-level history and psychology classes, world civilization, social studies, and like many rural Kentucky teachers, believes education is the only opportunity for children.
But student services continue to decline as the state’s funding for education is continuously cut back. Unlike metro areas, the school systems are the very thing binding rural communities together, Frederick-Trosper said.
“It’s a loss of student services and a loss of positions. We were lucky (in the past) to see people retire out of those positions but we won’t be that lucky if there’s still a continuation of cuts,” Frederick-Trosper said. “If they think it’s not going to be detrimental — by they politicians — if they don’t realize how devastating that will be for the entire state. Eastern Kentucky is not much different from far western Kentucky. The economics are the same. My husband and I, he and I have discussed would we have to leave? Where would we go? What would we do?”
At 38, she didn’t want to think about selling her house, moving to another state, leaving her community. She struggles with her and her family’s future; the uncertainty and instability of public education.
“I feel like I’m turning my back on my community and I’m turning my back on my students,” she said. “This is our livelihood. This is my life. If I’m thinking about having to leave and I’m thinking about moving my children, what about people that have less than 15 years in ?” Frederick-Trosper said. “I can’t believe that anybody — I don’t care what your political party is — your policies would be to inflict so much suffering on your constituents."