Even though it is only the opening salvo in what are expected to be bitter negotiations over teachers’ healthcare costs, a Santa Ana Unified School District proposal to raise premiums as much as $800 per month has teachers fuming.
District officials say the proposal was meant to draw attention to rising health costs the district is paying.
“You’re trying to get a reaction out of them, and then you sit down and you negotiate,” said district board member Audrey Yamagata-Noji.
Like many districts in California, it is in financial straits. Years of declining enrollment have reduced state funding, while health costs have skyrocketed. On Tuesday, the school board will consider cutting $21 million from next year’s budget, which could include closing an elementary school and trimming high school athletic programs.
Santa Ana teachers, who earn an average of $58,000 annually, pay significantly less for their health insurance than most employees across the nation.
According to a 2006 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, single adult coverage in employer plans averages $52 per month, and family coverage averages $248. Teachers in Santa Ana pay $5 per month for a single person, $15 for two adults and $45 for a family to receive their choice of Kaiser or Blue Cross HMOs, or Blue Cross PPO.
District officials say they are spending $66 million on health insurance this year, a 20% jump over last year, with the bulk of the spending for the Blue Cross PPO plan.
Late last year, the district proposed offering Kaiser to teachers free of charge, the Blue Cross HMO at the current monthly rate, and the Blue Cross PPO -- which more than half the teachers use -- at a greatly increased rate. For the PPO, single teachers would pay $265 per month, coverage for two adults would be $579 per month and family coverage would run $844. District officials said they used these figures to illustrate how much the PPO coverage costs and concede that no one expects teachers to pay such high rates.
Teachers have been working without a salary and benefits contract since July 1.
“Our teachers are very upset,” said David Barton, president of the teachers union. “For the majority of teachers, this essentially would be [a] massive pay cut.”
Contract negotiations nearly broke down last month, but the two sides agreed this week to return to the bargaining table Wednesday, when the union is expected to offer a counterproposal. Teachers have planned a rally Tuesday at Villa Fundamental School to protest the health proposal.
Teachers called the proposal offensive, particularly in light of the two-year pay cut they took to help plug a $29-million deficit in the 2004-05 school year.
Mark Warffuel, a 46-year-old math and science teacher at Lathrop Intermediate School, lost a kidney nine years ago because of a congenital defect. The Lake Forest resident said he would be willing to pay double the current rates, but $844 is out of his reach, and he would consider moving to another district if the proposal went through.
“It would force me to leave, and I don’t want to leave.”
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Leaps and bounds?
Grappling with skyrocketing healthcare costs, Santa Ana Unified School District officials have proposed increasing employee costs as much as $799 per month for the costliest plan: a preferred provider option. Free and low-cost HMO plans have also been proposed.
Percent of teachers in each plan
Blue Cross PPO: 56%
Blue Cross HMO: 30%
Employee healthcare contribution for PPO, monthly
*--* Coverage for Current cost Proposed cost % increase Employee $5 $265 5,200% Two people $15 $579 3,760% Family $45 $844 1,776%
Source: Santa Ana Educators Assn. Graphics reporting by Seema Mehta