Milton, teachers haggle over insurance
MILTON With the possibility of budget cuts looming in the Milton School District, a months-old insurance squabble between the district and its teachers has gone public.
This week, district officials released figures on savings the district could have seen this year if the Milton Education Association last June had approved a switch in insurance carriers.
According to the district, savings this year could have totaled more than $671,000—a savings of almost 19 percent.
The teachers union is concerned the district’s proposed insurance switch could mean diminished coverage, Milton Education Association President Shelly Kress said.
“We did not accept (the insurance change) because of concerns that some members don’t live in the network. Their costs could rise,” Kress said. “We’re worried that the differences would mean we’d be making basically the same amount of money and covering increased out-of-pocket costs.”
The district’s insurance savings figures are based on insurance bids collected in April 2009 and were part of a package the district offered to the teachers union during a round of failed labor contract negotiations last summer.
“It’s what could have been,” district Business Manager Dianne Meyer said.
The teachers are working under terms of a contract that expired in June, and the district filed for arbitration in January.
The district is facing an $850,000 deficit in 2010-11.
In a public comment session this week, Milton High School teacher Dave Falkavage questioned a comment last month by school board member Al Roehl, who said the district could save $600,000 a year if the teachers union would switch insurance providers.
Falkavage asked the district for proof.
“That’s why these (insurance figures) were put out,” Meyer said.
Kress said she doesn’t question the validity of the district’s insurance figures.
“I assume that it’s factual,” she said.
But Kress said she’d like the board to stop blaming teachers for the school’s budget problems.
“It was unfair for the board to claim the deficit’s the teachers’ fault. It’s not true. Even if we switched insurance, there would still be a budget deficit,” she said.
The district is offering the teachers a combined Dean/MercyCare plan similar to a Dean/MercyCare plan district administrators and support staff have used for two years. Meyer called the plan “less expensive at the same level of services.”
The teachers union is under a health plan through the Wisconsin Education Association Council.
This week, the board approved pay freezes for administrative and support staff.
Kress said that in earlier negotiations, the teachers union offered to take a pay freeze, but the board rejected that offer.
“We’ve been told the board is only interested in a proposal that would include an insurance change from WEA Trust to Dean or Mercy,” Kress said.
Meyer said that because of pending labor negotiations, she couldn’t comment on Kress’ statement.
“We (the district) obviously want a settlement,” Meyer said.
Wisconsin schools are no longer bound to make teachers a qualified economic offer of salaries and fringe benefits. But that doesn’t mean a district can force a switch in teacher insurance, Meyer said.
“It’s something that has to be bargained. It’s part of the negotiation process,” Meyer said.
Meyer acknowledged that depending on a teacher’s choice of health care provider, a Dean/Mercy plan could mean less coverage.
“Rather than 100 percent payment, in some cases, it might be 80/20 coverage,” Meyer said. “That’s based on their choice. It’s where they get services.”
Although the cost of virtually all insurance plans is likely to increase, Meyer said it’s likely the district would still see a savings if the teachers switched insurers.
“In future settlements, there still will be a significant differential between premiums for the WEA trust preferred plan and the Dean/MercyCare plans,” Meyer said.
Milton School District officials say the district could have saved $671,000 this year if teachers had agreed to change insurance carriers from WEA Preferred Trust to combined coverage under Dean Health Systems/MercyCare. Teachers union officials say they’re concerned the change in providers could have meant less coverage.
WEA Preferred Trust Plan Dean Health Systems/MercyCare
Single premium $770 -- $620/$589
Family premium $1,740 -- $1458/$1356
District’s total annual cost $3,547,544 -- $2,876,007
*Figures based on 2009 estimates provided by Milton School District