Last June, the Madison Board of Education ratified the 2005-07 collective bargaining agreement with Madison Teachers, Inc. The agreement commits the district and the teachers union to form a task force to identify potential cost savings from changes in health insurance coverage. If the task force finds savings, the parties may renegotiate the health care provisions. The deadline for this work is February of 2006.
Months ago, both sides named their representatives to the task force. Months ago, the Board’s attorney declared that the task force meetings—–prior to possible renegotiation—–would be public meetings. Five months have passed without a public meeting of the task force. The Human Resources Committee, which has oversight of this process, has not mentioned the topic or called for a report from administration. In fact, the board has received more updates from the administraton about discussions on the future of guinea pigs in classrooms than it has on possible savings in health care costs. Now only a few months remain to collect information on this complex topic, analyze the options and, if possible, renegotiate the health insurance provisions in the two-year agreement.
Much is at stake. Last year, health insurance for employees cost the district $37M, more than 10% of the budget. Payments for teachers’ insurance account for most of the costs. In addition, teachers stand to benefit from wage increases during the remainder of the 2005-07 agreement, because the parties agreed that the teachers, not district programs, will get the benefit of new savings.
Although the district cannot save money during the two-year contract, it might be in a better position to contain health insurance costs in future agreements, if the task force is productive. A rushed process at the last minute is unlikely to produce the needed changes or to raise public confidence in the board’s handling of district finances.