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Wise holds town hall at Campbellsville Independent Schools

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Crowd of around 20 comes out for Senator's first town hall stop

By Zac Oakes

 

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Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, held the first of several upcoming town halls at local school districts in the 16th Senate District Tuesday night with a town hall at Campbellsville Independent Schools’ Hamilton Auditorium.

Wise said he does a town hall circuit within the 16th District before each legislative session and after each session. With this year’s legislative session featuring several key educational issues, such as pension reform and a budget that featured a lot of key education items, Wise said holding the town halls at school districts seemed like the right way to provide a forum for people to ask him questions and hear feedback.

“I felt like it was right to come out to the school districts and speak,” Wise said. “You may not get every school employee to come out to a town hall, but I wanted to go back to where I had the most questions and comments during the session… about 90 percent were education-related… Part of this job is going out and listening to people. You can’t hide and be afraid. You have to be able to take criticism and praise.

… I try to keep people informed as possible. I do regular op-eds, Facebook posts, I explain my position on issues, and I think that can relate to transparency and I think people appreciate that.”

The crowd at Tuesday night’s town hall wasn’t exceptionally large, only 15-20 were in attendance, but the crowd was mostly supportive of Wise.

The only criticism that Wise faced — which wasn’t solely directed at him — was from Willard Smith, who spoke out about the recent cuts to higher education. He said he was at the meeting to represent the state’s public universities which faced continued cuts this past legislative session.

Smith told Wise the legislature could not continue making cuts to higher education, but needed to find new sources of revenue instead.

Wise praised the leadership of Campbellsville Independent Schools Superintendent Kirby Smith and said he maintained regular contact with the school district, and each person he spoke with from the district was very courteous and professional in expressing their concerns and asking questions.

“The way Mr. Smith and this school district handled this session was with the utmost respect and class,” Wise said.

Wise explained his vote on the controversial pension reform bill. He said that when SB 1 was making its way through committees and was set to be voted on from the Senate Floor, Wise was one of eight Republican senators who refused to vote in favor of the bill. He said the elimination of the cost-of-living adjustment was a major factor in his decision to oppose the bill in that form.

“That was one of the tougher days I’ve had as a legislator,” Wise said. “... But myself and the other senators stood our ground on what we believed.”

Wise said the process was “ugly” in making changes to the bill before it was eventually passed by both the House and the Senate, with Wise voting yes.

Wise said Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s comments made regarding teachers, particularly comments that were made on a local radio station, made the legislative session even more difficult and “heated.” Wise noted that he was one of the first Republican lawmakers to come out and denounce Bevin’s statements on multiple occasions.

He also said that trying to work pension reform, tax reform, and a budget into the 60-day session was too much, and a special session on either pension reform or tax reform would have made the process much smoother. Wise also said that from the beginning, the process would have been smoother if all stakeholders had a seat at the table for discussions, including KEA, Kentucky Superintendents Association, Kentucky School Board Association, etc.

 He told the crowd that current retirees will not be affected and current employees will only see a change in using sick days to further retirement benefits.

Wise also touted the $4,000 per student SEEK funding for Kentucky students, as well as $2.5 million that will go toward pediatric cancer research as notable aspects of the budget that was passed.

Wise mentioned that he will be part of a school safety working group that will be traveling the state, speaking to stakeholders in school districts around the commonwealth about school safety and what can be done to make Kentucky schools safer. He commended Smith and the Campbellsville Independent School District for the steps they have taken and the public forum the district held on school safety.

Overall, Wise said this session was very trying and he hopes that future sessions will not be much of the same. However, he said he did experience a lot of growth personally and as a legislator.

“This was very difficult,” Wise said. “… but this session did make me a better legislator. I’ve always lived by the motto ‘You aren’t as good as they say you are, but you aren’t as bad as they say you are.’… This session I was humbled. I needed that. I needed to hear the other side of the criticism because it made me a better legislator and it made myself and my family stronger.”

Wise will hold another town hall locally next Wednesday at Roger D. Cook Auditorium at Taylor County High School at 5 p.m.

The event is open to the public.