Voices of the Peninsula: School district employees propose changes to health care coverage

  • By David Brighton and Patty Sirois
  • Monday, February 15, 2016 5:55pm
  • Opinion

The KPBSD and the two education associations have been bargaining for over a year. The associations have made numerous attempts to compromise and meet the district’s demands and we look forward to the district meeting us in the middle, where we have already moved in good faith. More than a year is long enough for the associations to wait for a contract that is worthy of the awards and accolades that our educators earn. The teachers and support staff of the KPBSD are the leading examples for the rest of Alaska to follow and they have earned the respect and value to match their credentials.

In February 2015, the District’s initial health insurance offer had the District paying $1,804 per month per employee. Almost a year later, on January 13, 2016 the District proposed limiting its payment for health insurance to $1,500. This is concerning because the latest proposal could be considered regressive in nature as the District did not offer anything to offset the reduction in benefits from its first offer.

Seeking a new road to compromise, the associations’ current proposal includes a provision for the district to get out of the health insurance business. We have proposed joining the Public Education Health Trust. The PEHT, a non-profit organization was established to provide health care coverage for educational employees and includes the Anchorage, MatSu, and Juneau School District employees and covers over 16,000 lives. We believe it’s time for the district to stop managing health insurance as a part time job and focus all of our efforts on educating our kids.

With the PEHT, the Associations have proposed that the district pay $1,580 per employee, far below the $1,804 per month that the district initially proposed. As a matter of fact, the associations’ proposals will save the district’s portion of the health care costs well over $3.2 million in FY17.

This savings is due in large part because the district will no longer have to pay for insurance for hundreds of employees who choose to opt out of health insurance coverage. In order to maximize the number of people opting out of the district’s health care, the associations proposed that the district pay an incentive of $400 per month to have eligible employees opt out of the insurance plan. This $400 incentive saves the district $1,180 per month for each employee that opts out. According to a report by the district’s insurance broker there are around 216 employees that could opt out. That is a substantial savings to the district. If the district remained as a self-funded plan, according to the district, opting out is not a viable financial option.

In addition to face value savings, the Trust is a better deal for KPBSD than continuing to be self-insured. First, the Trust sets rates early in the year. This allows for more accurate budgeting by the district. Second, the Trust has a larger number of covered lives. This helps eliminate spikes in the plan cost when some employees have accidents or develop serious medical conditions like cancer or heart attacks. Simply put, joining the Trust offers predictable prices, there is less risk and it saves the District money.

When looking for ways that the district can save money, one has to wonder about the $100,000 budgeted for legal fees. From July-November the District has already spent more than 3/4 of that amount and bargaining isn’t finished.

In the past, a central office administration, as part of their contracted responsibilities, negotiated with the associations. Instead of taking care of business in house, the District’s monthly legal fees are more than a year’s wages for some employees.

At the Feb. 1 school board meeting, a board member made a comment that it didn’t appear that the associations and the school board were looking at the same set of facts and wished the parties could sit down and work things out. The associations couldn’t agree more! We invite community members and board members to sit and meet with us to go over the numbers about health care savings and salaries.

In closing, the associations have made compromises and have given in to the district’s demands throughout the process — not least is agreeing that the district only provide health insurance for new employees that work 30 hours or more per week. Further, the district has budgeted for a 3 percent increase in salaries and the employees are asking for only 1.5 percent.

Many members of the associations have students in the district. We are dedicated to insuring that the district has a successful future. However, we believe that the KPBSD cannot continue to successfully lead Alaska if we fail to attract the best teachers and support staff. We are looking forward to negotiating with the district on the 22nd of February and we expect to have a productive session. Please call your school board members and ask them to direct their bargaining team to accept the associations’ proposals.

David Brighton is the president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association. Patty Sirois is the president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association.

More in Opinion

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks about teacher bonuses during consideration a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Rep. Ben Carpenter: Supporting better outcomes in education

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, listens to testimony during a Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Managing Cook Inlet basin for the benefit of all

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks Monday, May 8, 2023, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Time is growing short

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sarah Vance (Photo provided)
Point of View: A moment of agony for Sarah Vance, and for Homer

The emotions driving Sarah Vance to the brink of tears during her agonizing silence in front of the Legislature suggested a battle of ideas

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Millions needed for Alaska’s child care sector

Without public investment, Alaska will continue to witness an inadequate and diminishing supply of child care services

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks about teacher bonuses during consideration a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Rep. Ben Carpenter: Time to disrupt our legislative process

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Fishing, energy move into spotlight

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of debating an omnibus education bill in the Alaska House Chambers on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Finding common ground on education

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, speaks to attendees at a town hall event on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Taking action for workers, supporting kids

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Most Read