Teachers howling at big cuts in benefits
September 18, 2009
Teachers yelled at the Park City Board of Education at a meeting Tuesday as the board did away with a health plan that did not require district employees to pay insurance deductibles.
"As board member Lisa Kirchenheiter was stating her motion, there were some employees who did not allow her to even finish her motion before they stood up, made negative comments and walked out," said Patty Murphy, business administrator for the Park City School District. "I was disappointed in reactions like that. I felt they were unprofessional."
Beginning Jan. 1, the new health plan, which is available to all district employees, will require a $250 deductible for individuals and $500 deductible for families. The employees are still not required to pay premiums toward their insurance.
"The employees were not anxious to have everybody pay a share of their insurance premiums," Murphy said.
Park City High School teacher Charlie Matthews complained that the new plan also increases co-pays and the costs for major medical care.
"Our existing coverage had a $20 co-pay, zero deductible and 90-percent major medical coverage," Matthews said
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The new plan increases co-pays for primary care to $25 and specialty-care co-pays to $50.
Some employees are up in arms.
"We recognize our health-care insurance is better than what is generally out there in the private sector," Matthews told The Park Record. "But teachers have, in the past, depended on that really good health coverage in order to make it with a lower salary."
Teachers in other districts in Utah, however, contribute to their health premiums.
"Does Park City want to be a Morgan or a North Summit or a Salt Lake? We are the No. 1 school district in Utah and perhaps one of the better in the Rocky Mountain region. Do we want to make those sorts of comparisons?" Matthews replied.
The district is facing a $2 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2010, Murphy said.
"If the district had maintained the insurance for next calendar year, it would have been an increase of $440,000," Murphy added.
With the cuts next year’s plan will still cost the district nearly $3.6 million, she said.
"We’re $2 million in the hole and I could not recommend that the district look at increasing costs for insurance when there was another option," Murphy said.
Maybe board members should have raised property taxes instead of reducing employee benefits, Matthews suggested.
"We do have a locally voted-in leeway that is not levied to its maximum and there is potential for additional tax revenues," Matthews said. "Shouldn’t those options be considered prior to cutting teachers already very, very tight compensation packages?"
Parkites pay less for schools than taxpayers in many other states, he claimed.
"Elsewhere in the country where there are quality school districts, the local property owner is paying much, much more in taxes to receive those benefits," Matthews said.
The district, though, did not want to raise taxes in a recession, said Kim Carson, president of the Park City Board of Education.
"We felt this year that there are a lot of our community members who have been heavily impacted by the recession," Carson said in a telephone interview. "We just didn’t feel like this year we could do that."
Despite changes to the plan, Carson insists employees in the Park City School District will still have better health benefits than any schools in Utah.
"Our board has always made it a goal to have the best compensated teachers in the state," she said. "It’s still no monthly contribution toward their premiums and we still provide the old plan as a buy-up option."
Employees who pay a modest monthly fee may maintain their current health coverage.