Great movements start with small conversations among like-minded individuals.
One day, leaning over a church pew, Sherry Wiggins, Carolyn King, and I expressed outrage over impending legislative changes to TRS-Care insurance. Out-of-pocket costs of $3,000 before insurance combined with limited prescription coverage meant monthly pensions ($1,675-$2,000 on average) wouldn’t suffice. This news, combined with learning that Texas had not had a cost-of-living increase for retirees in 16 years, made us ask, “How did this happen to retired school personnel?”
Sherry said we needed a rally, so she contacted the courthouse to arrange a day. I started a private Facebook group and invited educators, both retired and active, to be a part of the group. I asked for their email addresses, promising that emails would convey only pertinent information regarding legislative bills about insurance, salaries, payroll deduction, or vouchers. Tim Lee with the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) provided us information to discern rumor from fact.
We invited everyone in the Facebook group to a meeting at a local restaurant and asked Ginger Franks, ATPE regional representative, to speak about lobbying. After she spoke, several of us even joined ATPE online! The meeting’s 13 attendees formed the Coalition of Retired Educators (CORE) group, our main priority being to get teachers actively involved with the issues facing us. The group helped organize a rally at the Nacogdoches Courthouse on June 29. Money collected from the group helped buy supplies to make rally signs. The group decided to wear red to show unity among all school personnel.
One of our members, Betsy Bryan, wrote a letter to the local newspaper, The Daily Sentinel, to help the community understand the purpose of the rally. TV news stations were asked to cover the rally, and the stations actually interviewed some participants and used segments of the rally during evening news. Fliers were made and distributed through emails and social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). Teachers encouraged other teachers in neighboring towns to join us in the rally. Finally, participant Stacey Meador created a shirt design to further show unification at the rally.
We also contacted our politicians. Representative Travis Clardy then asked to meet with me and CORE members Sherry Wiggins, Claudia Whitley, Donna Christopher, and Katherine Whitbeck prior to the rally to hear our concerns. Senator Robert Nichols attended the rally and spoke about the issues. We had some parents who joined the rally line on the sidewalk. We took pictures of the rally and posted them all over social media.
The local paper followed up with several articles about the rally, and the public started to ask us questions. Suzanne Bardwell, a retired educator and co-publisher for the Gladewater Mirror, asked to be part of the email group and contacted us about organizing a rally; we offered suggestions about preparing and conducting one. The CORE group hoped that the rallies would spread across the state. Members of Nacogdoches CORE attended both the pro-education rally at the Gregg County Courthouse in Longview and the Texans for Public Education Rally in Austin.
We continue to share information via the Facebook group and keep each other informed. Our group encourages members to call and write emails to the governor, lieutenant governor, and other Texas politicians. We hope that Texas teachers, both retired and active, continue to contact legislators about important education issues. Texas educators want to see their legislators putting Texas students first by using the Rainy Day Fund to help increase funding for public schools and to stabilize insurance for active and retired school personnel. Educators want legislators to stop discussing rolling a healthy and stable TRS into a 401(k), which devastates pensions (just ask Texas firefighters and Enron employees); to kill vouchers; to raise teacher salaries; to stop trying to silence us through halting payroll deductions; and to reduce state testing to match federal guidelines.
Texas school employees are the largest profession in the state; therefore, we are the largest voting bloc. If current Texas politicians will not fight for us, we will vote them OUT and vote in politicians who care about education! The Sleeping Giant Is Awake!
Latricia Jacobs obtained her master’s in administration and superintendency from SFASU. She has taught grades 6th-7th and 9th-12th in the areas of science and English. She has served as Librarian, JH Principal, High School Principal, Special Services Director, and Director of Curriculum and Federal Programs. She recently retired from Woden ISD after 31 years in education. This fall she will work for SFASU serving as an adjunct Supervisor for Student Teachers. She has been married to Larry Jacobs for 29 years, and they have one son, Lane, a supervisor for Cal-Maine Foods and a daughter, Lindsey, who is in her 2nd year of teaching 4th grade at Hudson ISD.
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