Press-Republican

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August 31, 2013

City School denies FOIL request

PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh City School District has denied public access to a letter from its attorney on unilateral benefit changes.

The April 25 letter, which is from the Albany-based law firm Girvin & Ferlazzo P.C., was requested by School Board member Fred Wachtmeister following some debate at board meetings about whether the district could switch its employees’ health-care coverage from Plan A to Plan B without negotiations.

While Wachtmeister has insisted that such a change must be negotiated with the school’s collective-bargaining groups, Plattsburgh resident Walter Chmura says he believes the contracts do allow for a unilateral switch.

DENIAL APPEALED

According to City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short, the contracts for both the Plattsburgh Teachers Association and Plattsburgh Civil Service Employees Association state that the health-insurance plan must be at least the equivalent of the Blue-Cross/Blue Shield Statewide Plan.

“This brings the question forward if the School Board can or has interest in unilaterally switching plan options absent contract negotiations,” Short told the Press-Republican in May.

On June 20, Chmura submitted a request for the attorney’s letter through the Freedom of Information Law. That request was subsequently denied by the District Office on the grounds of attorney/client privilege.

He appealed the decision, and the board was scheduled to vote on the request at last week’s public meeting.

TAXPAYERS ARE ‘CLIENTS’

“I can only hope that there’s some appreciation for the fact that I and other taxpayers out there are clients and that you are representatives (and are) not to deny us information that’s valuable in making major decisions like switching the health-care plan from Plan A to Plan B, which is a million-and-a-half-dollar savings that’s been postponed for almost seven years,” Chmura told the board during the first public-comment portion of the meeting, before any action was taken.

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