Benefits for educators vary
September 29, 2009
Educators say expensive insurance plans help school districts attract quality teachers. Employees in the Park City, South Summit and North Summit School Districts do not have to contribute to their health premiums.
But maintaining the attractive benefits packages as health-care costs increase is difficult, said Kim Carson, president of the Park City School Board.
"It’s costing us more," Carson said in a telephone interview. "We’ve absorbed those cost increases every year and haven’t passed any of that onto our employees."
Teachers objected this month when the Park City Board of Education replaced their health plan with another, which will force teachers to pay their insurance deductibles.
"We realize that that is a huge benefit that our teachers have really appreciated," Carson said. "However, we just felt like we couldn’t add to our expense this year."
With the Park City School District facing a $2 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2010, beginning Jan. 1 the new health plan available to all district employees will require a $250 deductible for individuals and $500 deductible for families.
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The new plan increases co-pays for primary care to $25 and specialty-care co-pays to $50.
Heidi Matthews, president of the Park City Education Association, which lobbies on behalf of teachers, said the deductibles punish district employees.
"We have to attract good teachers who have to be able to maintain a viable, sustainable living in our community," Matthews said in an interview.
Depending on their level of education and expertise, teachers in the Park City School District earn annual salaries between $36,794 and $72,616. Matthews said she lost more than $1,500 this year because several professional development days were eliminated from teachers’ calendars.
"It’s a hit on our bottom-line take-home pay," she said.
Matthews defended teachers who spoke out at a Sept. 15 school board meeting about why their benefits should not be reduced. But board members voted unanimously for the new plan.
Some teachers were criticized for their behavior at the meeting, but a comment Park City High School teacher Jim Fleming made as he left the room that night has been "warped" by Fleming’s critics, Matthews said.
"[Fleming] knew it was over. We’d been there for four flipping hours," Matthews said. "He said, ‘I’m going to go home and get some sleep so I can teach your kids tomorrow.’ He didn’t say, ‘This is going to make it hard to teach your kids.’"
Carson insists district employees in Park City have one of the state’s best health plans.
"I can confidently say that it is still the best plan in public schools in the state of Utah," Carson said.
Meanwhile, educators in Kamas must pay much higher health deductibles than teachers in Park City.
Those deductibles also increased this year, according to Kip Bigelow, business administrator for the South Summit School District.
The deductible is $500 for an individual and $1,000 for families. Co-pays for primary care for teachers in Kamas jumped to $30 and specialty-care co-pays increased to $40.
"Health insurance seems to be an important issue to the teachers," Bigelow said. "They want to keep as good of health policy as we can provide."
To avoid layoffs in a recession most employees understood their benefits needed to change, Bigelow said.
"They worked very well with us this year," he said. "Had we not made these changes our premiums would have went up about 6.3 percent."
The insurance deductible for an individual in the North Summit School District is $200, according to North Summit School District Superintendent Steve Carlsen.
The family deductible is $600, he said, adding that insurance deductibles for individuals and families did not increase this year.
The North and South Summit School Districts both subsidize the full monthly health premiums for their employees.