Here’s Where We Are

The cost of school employees’ health insurance is now in the hands of an arbitrator after both sides submitted their last, best offers Monday afternoon. 

While the employee representatives on the Commission for Public School Employee Health Benefits had sought a negotiated settlement with their school board counterparts for more than a year, the decision is now left to arbitrator Allan McCausland, who will choose one of the proposals in its entirety in a binding decision. 

The proposal he chooses likely will go into effect for all public school employees on July 1, 2020. His decision is expected by December 15. 

For months your negotiators have tried to reach agreement on eligibility, on proration of costs for part-time employees, premium cost sharing for support staff, and out of pocket costs and the vehicle used to pay them. (In case you forgot, fellow members serve on your bargaining team. Get reacquainted here.)

“The arbitrator should select the union’s last best offer because it is more equitable, fair and practicable than the employer’s proposal,” Rebecca McBroom, Vermont-NEA’s legal counsel, wrote in a brief submitted with the union’s last best offer. “The union’s proposal is in the best interest and welfare of the public; it is less costly and provides more health care coverage than the employer’s proposal; it is more comparable to the health care benefits of similarly situated employees in Vermont; and, unlike the employer’s proposal, it is almost identical to existing health care benefits and coverage for school employees.”

In essence, the union’s proposal calls for:

  • Eligibility for health plans for teachers pegged at 17.5 hours a week for teachers and support staff, with the proration of premium split bargained locally. However, out-of-pocket coverage by the employer will be the same regardless of premium proration.
  • Premium shares for teachers would be set at 80/20 for Gold or Silver CDHP and for Platinum/Gold VEHI plans, the board would contribute a dollar amount equivalent to 80 percent of Gold CDHP. 
  • Premium shares for support staff would remain at locally bargained status-quo for 18 months, then year two would see an increase of 2 percentage points, not to exceed 20 percent of premium costs. 
  • All tiers of coverage would be available to all eligible school employees from day one at the prevailing premium split up to a maximum employee contribution of 20 percent.
  • For employees and their dependents enrolled in the VEHI Gold CDHP, employers would pay medical and pharmacy out-of-pocket costs with first-dollar contributions through a health reimbursement arrangement. For licensed administrators and teachers, employers would pay $2,100 for single coverage and $4,200 for other tiers; for support staff, the amounts would be $2,200 and $4,400. The dollar amounts would remain the same for employees enrolled in the VEHI Silver CDHP, except that employees may choose at their discretion to have those payments made through either an HRA or through a health savings account. After those amounts are paid by employers, licensed administrators and teachers would face a maximum out-of-pocket exposure of $400 for single coverage and $800 for other tiers; support staff’s exposure would be $300 and $600.
  • Additionally, the union proposal calls for a transition to a statewide third-party administrator, and would leave cash-in-lieu arrangements and grievance procedures to local contracts. 

The school board plan generally calls for greater expenses for support staff including rising premium contributions from support staff to 20 percent on last day of the contract, lower contributions to out-of-pocket expenses, stricter eligibility requirements, and other provisions that would mean less coverage. 

The goal of the employee members of the commission all along has been to bargain a healthcare plan that is equitable, affordable, and available to all school employees, especially at a time when Vermonters have expressed such great support for public schools. 

And while the original push by the Vermont School Boards Association and the governor for statewide healthcare bargaining was touted as a way to save money by saddling school employees with higher costs, a commission tasked with analyzing costs found that statewide bargaining would not lower costs. 

“Interestingly, although Gov. Scott insisted on cuts to educational funding and reducing property tax rates in 2017 and 2018, Vermont’s economy is doing well by all indices,” McBroom wrote. She noted that unemployment is the lowest in the country while voters consistently approve 96 percent or more of school budgets in a typical year. 

And for a group of people obsessed with costs, the school board proposal actually costs more than the union’s proposal. 

“The employer’s proposal has several disadvantages to both local school boards and local bargaining units,” McBroom wrote. “It ignored consideration of the ‘financial ability of … school districts across the state to pay for the costs of health care benefits and coverage,’ and it would hit Vermont’s rural and lower-income areas the hardest.”

It also costs more: according to expert testimony during the arbitration process, the employer’s plan has a price tag that is millions higher than the union’s plan. 

“The union proposal…strives to balance the needs of employees and their families with the costs to school districts,” McBroom said. “It offers choice and lower, more sustainable costs overall.”

You can read more – including both last, best offers, a side-by-side comparison, and the union’s brief – at vthealthbargainingteam.org. 

Bitnami