School employees grapple with potential cost jumps | SierraSun.com

School employees grapple with potential cost jumps

Renee Shadforth, Sierra Sun

The cost of health benefits for Tahoe Truckee Unified School District employees may go up – way up – on July 1.

More than 40 district employees appeared at Wednesday night’s school board meeting to protest the increase in rates, some saying it would hike their yearly health insurance contribution by more than 300 percent.

Corine Harvey, a Truckee Elementary special education teacher and a single mother of three, said she will have to pay $6,000 per year to keep her family insured.

“We should have health coverage,” she told the school board trustees. “To me, it shouldn’t be a bargaining issue … you, as a board, should embrace this (issue).”

The employees were asking for the district to take action – whether it be by finding other solutions or increasing the district’s contribution to employee benefits.

“Let me worry about my reading curriculum and not how I’m going to pay my insurance premiums,” Harvey told the trustees.

The rate increases from the district’s benefits provider – Tri-County Schools Insurance Group – are not official, but should be set by April.

Michael Merriman, president of the Tahoe Truckee Education Association, said 90 percent of certificated employees are on the premiere insurance plan. The cost out of pocket with the proposed plan, he said, would increase from $153 to $589 per month.

“We need to work with CSEA (the classified employees union), and we need to work with you on this. It could tear this district apart,” he said.

California School Employees Association representative Barbara York spoke on behalf of the district’s classified staff. She said the employees on the basic plan with Tri-County Schools Insurance will have to pay a $1,000 deductible for doctor’s visits with the upcoming increase.

“If we’re not going to pay it in premiums, we’re going to pay it at the doctor’s office to take care of our children’s needs,” York said to the school board members.

York added that the school district’s contribution to employee benefits is below average compared to other districts in California.

The school board and district office staff responded to the union representatives’ comments, saying they are working toward solutions.

The school district switched to Tri-County Schools last year and has two more years in its contract with the provider. The insurance committee that chose Tri-County Schools last year will reconvene March 9 to explore its options in the face of an increase, said Ralph Johnson, assistant superintendent of business services.

Johnson noted that the increases are a statewide issue, which insurance companies say have been spurred by many high-dollar claims and people moving to lower-cost plans during open enrollment because of premium increases.

“It’s a difficult problem, and we’re trying to deal with it,” Johnson said.

The school board gave direction to administrative staff to look into possible solutions.

“We understand people pick public employment for the benefits package,” said school board President Cindy Gustafson, who works for the North Tahoe Public Utility District. “I pick public employment for the benefits package.”