Insurance issues loom in teacher talks

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Saturday, December 8, 2007
— The Janesville School Board’s quest for a major change in its health plan was the gorilla in the room as negotiators for the board and teachers met Friday.

But unlike the proverbial gorilla, nobody ignored this one.

Negotiators who spoke after the meeting said they discussed health care at length but came to no agreement on the 2007-09 contract.

The board’s No. 1 goal is for teachers to start paying part of the premium that pays their health plan, Superintendent Tom Evert said after the meeting.

The teachers appear to have gotten that message, but they seem staunchly opposed to the idea.

The teachers countered with information showing their health-care costs are among the lowest among teachers unions in the state, said Jennifer Fanning, co-lead negotiator for the teachers.

Evert said the board agrees that the district’s self-funded plan costs less than most school district plans in the state. The district also has been fortunate that it’s seen few high-cost “catastrophic” health claims recently.

But the district’s good luck in avoiding major costs isn’t likely to last, Evert said.

“They are adamant about having premium-sharing, and that’s a cost shifting,” Fanning said. “We want to look at continuing doing the good things we’re doing with our health care and have further savings rather than shifting money around.”

“It was a frustrating meeting,” Superintendent Tom Evert said. “I thought we were making good progress until Dr. (co-lead negotiator Dave) Parr signaled rather abruptly that the meeting was over.”

Evert said he was taken off guard by Parr’s action and didn’t know what caused it.

“I think at that point both sides had made their points, and we weren’t coming to an agreement,” Fanning said when asked what happened.

“We just haven’t come to an agreement,” Fanning said. “We just need further discussions.”

Evert said that although the board is firm on premium sharing, it is willing to compromise in other areas of the budget.

“Their lawyer did hint around about something like that, but they haven’t offered anything to us,” Fanning responded.

A memo on premium-sharing, which Evert faxed to The Janesville Gazette after the meeting, suggests one compromise: “Members could receive a significant salary increase to offset the effect of paying premiums.”

The board wants premium sharing in order “to increase employee awareness of the cost of insurance and to encourage responsible use of the benefits,” according to the memo from Angel Tullar, manager of employee relations.

Fanning said teachers are already well aware of the costs when they have to pay a 20 percent co-pay for a visit to the doctor’s office.

Evert said the board believes a 20 percent co-pay is not excessive.

No matter how the final compromise is reached, it appears that health care will continue to be the major battleground.

No further meetings were scheduled, but Evert said the board’s team is open to meeting again before winter break begins and/or in early January.

Fanning said the teachers are open to those possibilities.

Sam Loizzo, the teachers union’s president-elect, observed the negotiations and participated in the caucuses, Fanning said.

Meanwhile, the two sides are still looking for a date to meet with a state mediator, probably in late January, they said.

Mediation could lead to the board imposing a settlement on the teachers, but both sides have said they prefer to reach a voluntary settlement.

Last updated: 11:41 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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