Plattsburgh City School Board faces a difficult decision: Does it switch teachers to Plan B health insurance without negotiating the change?
Teachers are covered under Plan A, which has been described to us by people in insurance billing as the best in the area, by far, for recipients.
Plan A was devised through a municipal cooperative agreement, which means area school districts are self-insured, with a team of superintendents creating the health plans that are offered to unions.
In 2005, under pressure from taxpayers to reduce costs, they also came up with Plan B, which has higher co-pays and some other components that are less appealing to recipients, but which is still considered a solid plan with excellent coverage.
Moving active City School District teachers to Plan B would save $443,494 a year; Civil Service Employees Association members could switch for savings of $87,199 a year.
The main objection to Plan B, as far as teachers are concerned, is its three-tier prescription plan, which has no cap on out-of-pocket expenses, according to Rod Sherman, the longtime teachers union president, now retired but still serving as a negotiator.
There is no question, in our minds, that new teachers hired in the district should get Plan B. The economic reality of our times is that all employees in any field have to carry more of their health-insurance costs.
And we feel just as firmly that retired teachers and staff should be allowed to keep Plan A. Those were the conditions under which they entered retirement, and that is what they based their remaining finances on.
The big question, which the City School Board is struggling with now, is: Do you force the teachers who are working now to move from Plan A to Plan B without negotiations?
Some knowledgeable city taxpayers have been pressing for that, and the board should not shrug them off because of their small numbers. Most taxpayers would want a cost savings.
The issue of fairness arises, though.
Is the School Board there to protect the interest of the unions? We certainly believe teachers and staff deserve to be equal partners in district decisions and to feel valued and financially secure.
Or is the board’s first obligation to taxpayers? They are struggling with rising costs from all public sectors and shouldn’t have to fund a plan that far exceeds what they themselves are covered by.
The answer is neither. The board’s primary duty is to the students.
If money could be saved and used instead to expand educational needs and prevent program and equipment cuts, that must be the goal of the board, the teachers, the staff and the taxpayers.
What might be needed, to avoid this dilemma in the future, is a switch from a municipal cooperative agreement to an Article 47 consortium, where superintendents and unions cooperate to create a health plan that they all can live with.
But for now, students’ interests must rule the decision.