Teachers approve contractThe Superior School Board approved a contract with Superior Federation of Teachers – Local 202 for the coming year at a special meeting Wednesday, ending months of negotiations that put the spotlight on rising health care costs.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
The Superior School Board approved a contract with Superior Federation of Teachers – Local 202 for the coming year at a special meeting Wednesday, ending months of negotiations that put the spotlight on rising health care costs.
“It’s been a tricky but successful negotiating year for all involved,” said Board Member Mary Klun, chair of the personnel and negotiations committee.
The resulting contract is a balancing act, with a two percent pay increase for teachers offset by reduced health care benefits. The sum total increase for the district is less than it has been since 1993, when the state locked a 3.8 Qualified Economic Offer into teacher contract negotiations. Under the QEO, school boards could limit pay and benefits increases to 3.8 percent. That ended last year. By holding the line on health care costs, the total increase to the district for the coming year is 2 percent, the amount of the wage increase.
“So even though it’s less for us as a district, which is wonderful, it’s also been an extra benefit for the teachers to see a two percent (wage increase),” Klun said. “In the past I know we’ve had zero percent, or .1 percent, because the health care costs have eaten it up.”
SFT – Local 202 President Kathy Empie said teachers were “as happy as we can be” with the contract.
“I think both sides worked together for the common good,” she said.
Teachers appreciated the raise in pay, Empie said, which will also increase retirement benefits.
“We haven’t gotten raises in recent years,” she said, because health care costs gobbled up any increases.
The long negotiating process quickly became an issue about health insurance benefits, said Attorney Ken Knudson, who represents the district. To maintain health benefits at the current rate, premiums would have risen by 37 percent. That would have cost the district more than $3 million dollars according to Knudson. Initial negotiations with the health insurance carrier lowered the increase to 27 percent, a drop of about $1 million in cost.
So, aided by a health insurance committee representing all parties involved, the district switched to a new health insurance carrier that would lock in a lower premium for the 2010-2011 school year and cap any increases to 12 percent for the following year.
“Essentially by holding that increase to zero, we’re able to offer the 2 percent increase in salary,” Knudson said.
But it came at a price.
“The insurance benefit will be reduced, the deductibles will be increased,” Knudson said. “The out of pocket expense will go up for union members.”
To offset that cost, the district is setting up a health reimbursement account, he said.
Empie said teachers talked a lot about health and wellness at the negotiating table.
“The education of our members is going to be a big piece,” Empie said. “How to use your plan more wisely.”
By staying fit, taking care of their own health and cutting costs, the union president said, teachers hope to keep premiums low. That will help when they sit down at the table to negotiate the next contract.