MMSD / MTI Contract Negotiations Begin: Health Care Changes Proposed

Susan Troller:

The district and Madison Teachers Inc. exchanged initial proposals Wednesday to begin negotiations on a new two-year contract that will run through June 30, 2009. The current one expires June 30.
“Frankly, I was shocked and appalled by the school district’s initial proposal because it was replete with take-backs in teachers’ rights as well as the economic offer,” John Matthews, executive director of MTI, said in an interview Thursday.
But Bob Butler, a staff attorney with the Wisconsin Association of School Boards who is part of the district’s bargaining team, said he believed the district’s proposal was fair and flexible.
He said the administration’s proposal on health care provides two new HMO plans that could bring savings to the district and new options to employees, while still providing an option for the more expensive Wisconsin Physicians Service plan for employees who want it.
The district is proposing that teachers accept language that would allow two new HMO insurance plans, provided by Dean Care and Physicians Plus, to be added to the two plans currently offered.
Slightly more than 53 percent of the employees represented by the teachers’ bargaining unit use the less expensive Group Health Cooperative plan, which is a health maintenance organization, or HMO. The district’s costs for the GHC plan for next year are $364.82 per month for singles and $974.08 for families. Employees who opt for the GHC do not pay a percentage of the premium themselves but are responsible for co-pays for drugs that range from $6 to $30.
If about the same number of district employees — 1,224 — use the GHC plan next year, it would cost the district about $11.6 million.
The other option currently available to teachers is provided by Wisconsin Physicians Service. A preferred provider organization plan, it provides health insurance to just under 47 percent of the district’s teacher unit.
A more flexible plan that allows participants to go to different doctors for different medical specialties, the WPS plan next year will cost the district $747.78 per month for singles and $1,961.13 for families. Under the current contract, employees pay 10 percent of the cost of the WPS plan, which this year is $65.65 per month for singles, and $172.18 per month for families.
The cost estimate for the school district’s share of the WPS plan under the current contract would be about $19 million. Employees, who pick up 10 percent of the cost as their share of the premium, would pay another $2 million under the current structure.

It’s important to remember that a majority of the Madison School Board voted several months ago to not arbitrate with MTI over health care costs. Andy Hall has more:

But with the Madison School Board facing a $10.5 million budget shortfall, is the board giving away too much with its promises to retain teachers’ increasingly pricey health insurance and to discard its legal mechanism for limiting teachers’ total compensation increase to 3.8 percent?
Yes, School Board Vice President Lawrie Kobza said Saturday, “I feel very strongly that this was a mistake,” said Kobza, who acknowledged that most board members endorse the agreement with Madison Teachers Inc., the teachers union.
State law allows districts to avoid arbitration by making a so-called qualified economic offer, or QEO, by boosting salaries and benefits a combined 3.8 percenter a year.
“To agree before a negotiation starts that we’re not going to impose the QEO and negotiate health care weakens the district’s position,” Kobza said. She contended the district’s rising health-care costs are harming its ability to raise starting teachers’ salaries enough to remain competitive.
The “voluntary impasse resolution” agreements, which are public records, are used in only a handful of Wisconsin’s 425 school districts, according to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

Carol Carstensen posted an alt view on Concessions before negotiations. Related: What a sham(e), Sun Prairie Cuts Health Care Costs & Raises Teacher Salaries – using the same Dean Healthcare Plan and “Going to the Mat for WPS“. TJ Mertz says Susan neglected to mention the QEO (note that the a majority of the MMSD school board agreed not to arbitrate over the QEO or health care casts in “Concessions before negotiations”.