Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Kentucky's two largest school districts closed classrooms Thursday after teachers organized a "sickout" to protest new legislation that affects teachers' pensions.
Jefferson County and Fayette County Public Schools said they didn't have enough substitutes to keep classes open after 40 percent of teachers said they would take sick Thursday. At issue is a bill that would restructure the board that oversees the state's pension system.
School districts in Carter, Madison and Berea schools also closed Thursday.
KY 120 United, which formed during teacher protests last year, called for the sickout Wednesday. They are concerned House Bill 525 would dilute teacher representation on the pension board.
"The bill is as destructive to our pension assets as any bill could be," the union said.
Instead of having seven elected trustees on the board, members under the proposal would come from various professional groups, five affiliated with education.
"It's our money we want to put in, and we want to oversee that money," Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler said.
State Rep. Kevin Upchurch, who sponsored the bill, said it does the exact opposite -- giving teachers more of a say in their retirement fund.
"We have been working for more than a week on a committee substitute that will not only increase the say teachers have ... but also the voice of retired educators," Upchurch said. "Despite this, I am hopeful that we can still have a rational conversation on HB 525."
Union founder Nema Brewer hinted there could be other motivations behind the "sickout."
Jefferson county Teachers Union President Brent McKim said he doesn't support the movement. Instead, he preferred teachers take a personal day.
"We wouldn't recommend teachers use a sick day for something other than being sick because that could lead to their termination," McKim said. "It's a serious thing."
Teachers also stayed away in Northern California Thursday. Educators in Oakland took a similar "sickout" amid their labor strike, which is nearing its second week. Administrators increased their offer Wednesday to an 8 percent raise and 2 percent bonus.
Union leaders are still pushing for 12 percent and criticized the district for releasing details of the latest offer.
The Oakland school board postponed a meeting Wednesday due to thousands of striking teachers demonstrating outside. The board would have voted on the controversial 2019-2020 budget, which would have solidified teacher raises and cut about 100 jobs.
"Everything is canceled," school board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge told East Bay Times.