June 26, 2016

Partly sunny

Highland teachers agree to pay more for health insurance

GRANGER TWP. — Highland Schools’ teachers agreed Monday to pay more of their health insurance premiums, a move that’s expected to save approximately $1 million over the remaining two years of their collective bargaining contract.

The board voted unanimously to accept the agreement, which extends the teachers union contract by one year. It now will expire in June 2013.

Highland Education Association members now pay 5 percent of their premiums for family health insurance policies. Teachers don’t pay any of the costs for individual policies. Starting in July, teachers will pay 15 percent for all policies and 20 percent in July 2012. Administrators have agreed to the same increases and the savings are included in the $1 million.

“We know that times are tough for everyone. Our teachers agreed to bring forth this proposal to show that we are all working together to stretch every dollar for the benefit of our students,” HEA President Mary Becker said.

The district asked the union for concessions three times since its most recent contract was ratified. Becker said in August teachers “overwhelmingly” rejected the first two requests.

At an August meeting, board members read a public statement that requested concessions from the district’s two unions. Since then, the board has had closed-doors meetings about contract concessions.

“The Highland teachers have really come together to help the district’s financial situation. This is an unprecedented step and what they are offering not only meets but exceeds what is included in Senate Bill 5,” board President Dan Petek said.

“The teachers certainly put their money where their mouth is,” he said. “Or I should say, they put their money where their heart is.”

He said he believes their health-benefit payments will bring them in line with what private-sector employees pay.

Senate Bill 5, which Gov. John Kasich signed into law at the end of March, does not apply to Highland’s contract with its teachers. However, if the law isn’t struck down on referendum, it could apply to any future deals between the district and its unions.

The bill mandates that public employers cannot pay more than 85 percent of their workers’ health insurance premiums.

“While we don’t know what the final outcome of S.B. 5 will be, we do know that we have two solid years of direct economic benefit to the district as a result of these concessions,” Superintendent Catherine Aukerman said. “The community has asked for the teachers to step up and give something, to demonstrate a shared sacrifice during these difficult economic times, and the teachers have delivered.”

School officials are still in talks with the Highland Support Staff Association, which represents custodians, aides, mechanics and other staff.

Prior to the teachers’ concessions, the district predicted a $3.8 million deficit at the end of the fiscal year that ends June 2013.

Highland has a 6.9-mill emergency levy on the May 3 ballot that would bring in $4.63 million annually, if approved. It’s been 12 years since voters approved new operating revenue.

“We still need to have this levy passed,” Petek said. “It’s not that we can cut our way out of this.”

He noted Highland’s need is compounded by recently announced state budget cuts.

The district estimates Kasich’s budget proposal would mean an estimated $1.5 million cut in state funding next fiscal year and $1.7 million cut in funding in fiscal year 2013 for Highland.

In the last two years, Highland implemented cost-cutting measures totaling $4 million that included 40 layoffs, consolidating bus routes and freezing administrators’ pay. It also implemented pay-to-participate fees for sports and clubs.

Contact Maria Kacik Kula at (330) 721-4049 or mkacik@medina-gazette.com.