ASD would pay $7.5mil for teachers who opt out of benefits

Recent News — By on May 19, 2010 at 12:30 PM

By Kirsten Adams  
May 19, 2010

A tentative contract between the Anchorage School District and the local teacher’s union mandates the district make monthly insurance contributions for every teacher, regardless of whether they are covered by union insurance.

Jim Lepley, President of the Anchorage Education Association, said around 600 of Anchorage’s 3,800 teachers choose to waive their union insurance every year, and are covered instead by a spouse’s plan or private coverage. The district, however, continues to make insurance payments on their behalf, and Lepley said those funds go towards reducing health costs for other members.

“I don’t want to call it extra money but what we do is divide it up to lower everyone else’s deduction,” Lepley said. “It’s something that always comes up (in negotiations,) why should we pay for people that don’t do it, but that is something that is part of the package and they (the district) have agreed in the contract to pay for every person.”

Eric Tollefsen, Executive Director of Human Resources for ASD, said the estimated cost to the district for AEA members who elected not to accept union coverage was $7.5 million in 2009. While decreases to the 2010-2011 district budget involved cutting 29 budgeted teaching positions, Tollefsen said paying for even the uninsured teachers remained “part of the negotiation.”

“It’s true, it’s what we have negotiated and we certainly have talked about it in negotiations, and it has certainly come up during these negotiations,” Tollefsen said. “It’s a large amount, but if they elect to take coverage we’re still obligated to pay that amount.”

The district now contributes more than $1,000 per month per  AEA member, Tollefsen said, while the members themselves see around $345 withheld monthly for insurance costs. With the school district funds contributed on behalf of those members not covered, Tollefsen said the district is able to fully fund up to seven months of coverage for those members who are part of the union plan.

Superintendent Carol Comeau said the idea of contributing towards health care costs only for those teachers enrolled in the union plan had come up often during discussions with AEA representatives, but the district was comfortable with paying the additional $7.5 million annually.

The extra monthly payments are sent directly to the National Education Association trust in Alaska, Comeau said, and the trust is responsible for using the funds to reduce premiums for other teachers covered under the plan.

“How the NEA Alaska trust determines how it works for the members who waive their insurance is up to them,” Comeau said. ”It’s part of the negotiations and we agree to a certain amount per employee to go towards health insurance, because some years a teacher may waive it and they may need it for the next year. We’ve talked about it off and on through the years, it’s a back and forth trade and we’re comfortable with it.”

Tollefsen said, in the past, the extra money had been sent to the AEA rather than directly to the NEA Alaska trust. Pending negotiations may obligate the district to contribute towards every teacher, insured or otherwise, but Tollefsen said the district is now able to send the extra payments directly to the trust, which also provides the district with audited financial reports.

“What we were successful in doing in the contract previous to this is that we get to make sure the money the goes exactly where it needs to go,” Tollefsen said.

The Anchorage School Board is scheduled to vote on the tentative agreement on May 24. If approved, the contract would extend through June 2013, and monthly health care payments would increase up to $1,385 per month per member.

“We have certainly tried to negotiate it out in the past,” Tollefsen said. “Is it something the district has looked at and will continue to look at in the future? Yes.”

Kirsten Adams is an investigative reporter with the Alaska Watchdog. She can be reached at kadams@alaskapolicyforum.org.

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