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Community forum: Teacher health care negotiations is not as simple as governor portrays it

As you know, Gov. Scott, along with the Vermont School Boards Association and the Vermont Superintendents Association, has proposed that the state save up to $26 million by taking over teacher healthcare benefits. The governor has stated that he will veto a budget without these savings incorporated.
The Senate plan acknowledges that $26 million is an annual estimate, of which only one half will be realized in this budget year, and that property taxpayers demand relief. Our plan is to credit the $13 million from insurance policy savings this year to the Education Fund, thereby reducing property tax rates by 3.7 cents. It states that future school budgets shall continue to reflect insurance savings and includes a commitment to investigate a statewide insurance contract for teachers
The governor’s proposal to negotiate with teachers this year lacks many critical operational details and is late to the bargaining table. Our legal counsel states that there may be violations of federal law should he proceed as planned. The governor assigns the savings as follows: 1/3 to Early Education, 1/3 to the General Fund, and 1/3 for taxpayer relief.
While both plans intend to provide teachers with the same quality of healthcare coverage for the same out-of-pocket cost, the governor’s plan does not address those who either don’t take insurance or are low-wage hourly employees of the school. Both could end up with substantially higher out-of-pocket costs.
The Senate prefers to allow locally elected school boards to continue their work with teachers to negotiate savings in health care under the normal framework. The governor believes local leaders will not get the job done.
The Senate plan puts school boards and teachers alike under public pressure to agree on insurance plans that provide the best value for teachers and for taxpayer relief. We believe that both teachers and school boards understand what’s at stake.
The Legislature finds itself in an unenviable position. Two weeks before our planned adjournment, with the half of the Senate committees shut down until 2018, the governor proposed a dramatic change in school district collective bargaining.
We wish we were not in the position of compelling any behavior at the local level at this late date but, in light of the governor’s veto threat and our commitment to not intrude in collective bargaining this year, all options are difficult ones.
I just saw a copy of a letter from a school superintendent to elected officials. It quotes numbers supplied by VEHI and BCBS as the amount of money that districts would have to “make up in local budgets” should the senate plan prevail.
Those numbers are based on a non-existent scenario in which schools pay 100 percent of teacher premiums and 100 percent of their out-of-pocket costs (deductibles, co-pays, etc.). No such plan has ever been proposed.
Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison
Assistant Majority Leader
Chair, Senate Health and Welfare Committee

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