Rutland area school superintendents haven’t taken an official stance on Gov. Phil Scott’s plan for a statewide health care plan for all teachers, but they say the idea offers wide-ranging benefits.
“Not only would a statewide health care decision save money for school districts on health care cost, it could save thousands of man-hours sitting at the negotiating table and save on legal fees as well,” Joan Paustian, superintendent of the Rutland Southwest Supervisory Union, told True North.
The supervisory union, which spans four rural elementary and high schools in the Taconic hills and hollows southwest of the city of Rutland, hasn’t expressed formal support or opposition to Scott’s plan, which would save taxpayers $26 million through a statewide health insurance agreement, but take away collective bargaining.
But according to Paustian, the new health care plans, which will be offered for school employees as of January 2018, are more affordable for school districts while providing employees the same coverages. The major difference with the Scott plan is that it will provide lower upfront premiums in exchange for higher out-of-pocket expenses at the time of health service.
“As a result, the cost of insurance premiums are reduced, creating savings the boards plan to use to reduce property taxes,” she said. “The premium costs of the four insurance plans offered to school employees is lower than that of previous plans.”
Paustian said that Vermont school districts can benefit by having one common health care plan for all employees where “excellent coverage would be provided” at a more affordable premium.
“The hope is that this shift in expense will help employees better manage the health services needed and reduce the overall cost of healthcare,” she said. “School districts have the option of offering Health Savings or Health Reimbursement plans to assist the employee to cover a percentage of out- of-pocket costs, thus minimizing the exposure.”
Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union
In the neighboring Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, Superintendent Jeanne Collins says negotiations over health care plans are both ongoing and tricky.
“Our school boards are in the process of negotiating with teachers, paraprofessionals and bus drivers on all topics, including health insurance. … (But) the biggest sticking point in negotiations is health insurance,” she told True North.
The supervisory union Collins leads includes rural schools in west-central Vermont, between the college town of Middlebury and the city of Rutland.
Collins said the NRESU boards “have not taken a formal position on Gov. Scott’s plan on teacher health insurance,” but added that the new plans offered by the Vermont Education Health Initiative (VEHI) will offer real savings.
“Both employers and employees have an opportunity to structure the benefit so both parties, and therefore taxpayers, save money,” she said.
The NEA perspective
Even so, the Vermont-National Education Association strongly opposes Scott’s plan, primarily due to the loss of collective bargaining. Martha Allen, president of the Vermont-NEA, has taken Scott supporters, including the Vermont School Boards Association, to task for supporting the governor’s plan.
“The boards’ association has sat on the sidelines of the health reform debate for years,” Allen wrote in a recent op-ed. “It’s a shame that it chooses now to half-heartedly embrace it by trashing the very health insurance plan its members developed along with us that has, through its more than two-decade history, saved taxpayers millions of dollars a year.”
Some school boards have voiced support for Scott’s teacher health care plan, while others remain reticent about discussing the topic openly. Not surprisingly, the Vermont-NEA has the ear of many Democrats and Progressives.
Addison Northwest Supervisory Union
To the northwest of Rutland is the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union, which includes five schools in the Vergennes, Ferrisburgh and Addison area of Addison County. ANWSU Superintendent JoAn Canning told True North she is seeing a positive reaction to Scott’s proposal in the area.
“Several of the (ANWSU) school directors have communicated to their senators and representatives that they support Gov. Scott’s plan to take over the health care program for teachers,” Canning told True North Reports. “The savings is substantial and could provide both a relief for taxpayers and be used to address educational program needs of our district.”
Lou Varricchio is a freelance reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.