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Panelists discuss budget cut proposals at town hall

Matthew Powell, Graves County Schools custodial supervisor and a member of Kentucky Educators Association board of directors, makes a point Saturday during Kentuckians for the Commonwealth's Western Kentucky Town Hall at the Graves County Library. Listening in were Beverly Craig of Four Rivers Behavioral Health and Ralph Priddy of the Mayfield chapter of the National Assocation for the Advancement of Colored People.

SHELLEY BYRNE/The Mayfield Messenger

BY SHELLEY BYRNE sbyrne@mayfield-messenger.com

No legislators attended the Western Kentucky Town Hall, presented by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth on Saturday at the Graves County Library, but more than a dozen people listened to panelists talking about the impact of proposed state budget cuts.

Beverly Craig of Four Rivers Behavioral Health talked about how the budget Gov. Matt Bevin has proposed and that legislators are considering would affect mental health services.

It includes a 6.25 percent decrease in mental health funding, which would amount to a $10 million cut that would trickle down to 15 community mental health centers, she said.

"That's a whole lot of mental health dollars Kentucky could lose," she said.

She worried about possible program reductions as well as staff cuts.

Matthew Powell, custodial supervisor at Graves County Central Elementary and a member of the Kentucky Educators Association board of directors, talked about possible cuts to teachers' pensions as well as concern about state charter school funding.

Classified staff have been cut by 15 percent during his tenure because of state budget problems, he said, and he has had one raise in 11 years.

Powell talked about the importance of everyone in a school system connecting with the children as part of the educational process and mentioned a few of his own mentors from years ago, from the custodian who came to support him at a youth violin concert to the bus driver who wished him a good morning daily to the cafeteria manager who saved him extra packets of barbecue sauce for his chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes.

"When I go around tying kids' shoes, I make that connection with them," he said.

Kentucky education funding can't keep taking hits, he said.

"We make the sacrifices every day," he said. "We spend the extra time and money because we care about our kids."

Ralph Priddy, one of the people working on revitalizing Mayfield's chapter of the NAACP, talked about how cuts to funding for family resources and youth services centers programs disproportionately affect minority youth. Kentucky instead needs to be beefing up its services so that students are healthy, educated and ready to take advantage of economic opportunities, he said.

"Gov. Bevin, we need these programs to stay in place," he said. "Don't take this away from us."

Several people from the audience came to the microphone and made comments of their own, which were videoed to send to legislators. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth also provided cards and a painting canvas for people to send remarks and visually display their concerns.

Janice Gream, 66, of Mayfield, a teacher for 38 years in Mayfield and Clinton, said she was told when she was hired in 1972 that although Kentucky paid teachers less than surrounding states, her health care and retirement benefits were absolute.

"I would teach for less money up front, and I would get it back," she said. "And now, they're trying to rewrite my contract."

She said she hopes to get a carload of people together this week to protest in Frankfort.

Leslie McColgin, a speech-language pathologist at Jackson Purchase Medical Center, talked about how state Medicaid cuts could affect many of the hospital's patients, including stroke patients trying to recover memory and speaking abilities and children who have speech impediments. She estimated 90 percent of those she sees have services through Medicaid.

Gale Greyson, of West Paducah, said his son, who has autism, was able to find work at a candle plant in Mayfield, something he fears would not happen without supportive employment programs that could also see cuts.

Charlotte Goddard, an elementary school teacher, said she worries possible cuts to schools' transportation funds could affect students' abilities to get to school at all.

"So many families do not have or cannot afford cars," she said.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth offered next steps for those interested in continued debate about the budget situation, including the Rally for Pensions at 4 p.m. CST Monday at the Capitol building in Frankfort, voter empowerment training at KFTC's western Kentucky chapter meeting from 3 to 5:15 p.m. March 18 at Kess Creek Park in Mayfield and the March for Our Lives Rally for western Kentucky at 1 p.m. March 24 at Memorial Park in Calvert City.