Santa Cruz Indymedia :
Santa Cruz Indymedia

LOCAL News :: Education & Youth : Labor & Economics

Santa Cruz School District Official Proposes Teacher Raise in Lieu of Benefits

A Santa Cruz School District official proposed to teacher union representatives that the district offer a raise instead of health benefits.
The official felt that this might relieve the district of the responsibilty in negotiating a deal with the insurance companies.

This would set a dangerous precedent for not only teachers but for all workers. Just ask yourself; Who has more leverage to negotiate a deal, a school district or an individual teacher?

Does anyone even know a teacher worth their salt who has time to do more job related work?

Now on the other hand how about cutting the health benefits given to the part time school board members?

New Comments are disabled, please visit


Let workers decide how to spend their money

The basic idea here seems to be that employees should be allowed to choose how to spend their own money. It's a great idea! Many employee groups have won "opt out" provisions, allowing employees to receive cash in lieu of benefits (read some labor contracts, "alf"). Whether the employer spends the money on wages or on benefits, it comes from the same pot.

It makes sense to let employees choose their own health insurer and level of coverage. For example, I get comprehensive insurance from Kaiser Permanente for $150 per month. This is an individual plan. An employer would pay about $300 per person per month for a typical group plan from Kaiser. My copayments are higher, but my premium is much lower, and that works for me. I'll keep the $150 savings, thank you. If an employee is unable to find, or qualify for, suitable individual insurance, the person can always "opt in" to the employer's group plan.

Here's another example. Historically, state and local employees were not covered by the retirement portion of the Social Security program. In the 1970s, the federal government allowed state and local employers to join if they wished. The University of California opted not to cover "casual" employees, including students and people with short-term jobs. Instead of paying Social Security premiums, those employees contribute a like amount to a defined contribution plan [called a 403(b) plan, and similar to a 401(k) or Keogh plan, or a traditional IRA]. They can choose how the money will be invested (savings, bonds, mutual funds, etc.); borrow against the money in an emergency; and, once they leave UC, even cash out if desired. The contributions are made on a pre-tax basis (cf. Social Security premiums, which are essentially after-tax) and the gains accumulate tax-free. Tax is due only when the money is finally withdrawn -- usually at retirement. Most importantly, the money belongs to the employees. At retirement, a "casual" employee with a few years' worth of Social Security credits would be eligible for a Social Security pension of exactly $0, despite having paid thousands of dollars in premiums.

As you can see, employees benefit when we let them decide how to spend their own money.

Re: Santa Cruz School District Official Proposes Teacher Raise in Lieu of Benefits

I appreciate your response R. Paul but you seem to be missing the larger picture.

BTW the suggestion was a casual remark by a district employee to union reps, not a district offer of coverage choice.

I believe this is a dangerous trend. While the 'guv' and his friends hand over $$$ to Enron and (they hope) to publically funded genetic experiments, school services are deteriorating.

If you've followed the district's treatment of teachers for the last few years you'd know that the benefits (which medical workers used to refer to as 'the cadillac of insurance') have deteriorated along with those of Safeway workers (something you also supported because you are afraid of Walmart). This year if teachers want to be insured in the event of cancer and a few other horrible dseases they have to buy extra coverage out of their pockets. There has also been a deterioration of benefits to domestic partners.

This 'added' insurance coverage will have to be bought without a (multiple year) Cost of Living allowance.

Teachers who care are now forced to work longer and harder. Last week they were out picketing. They were supposed to be working to contract. I don't think many of them did. i.e. they continued to work overtime just to get their jobs done.

BTW some teachers have outright refused to work in the new portables (necessitated by the school closures) because the assault to their respiratory systems was too great (to say nothing of what happens to the kids).

Teachers' health plan info doesn't square; and yes, teachers are severely underpaid

"alf", I checked the human resources section of the Santa Cruz City Schools Web site. It reveals no drastic changes in the scope of the teachers' health insurance plans in the past few years.

The teachers can choose from Blue Cross Prudent Buyer I or II or Health Net. In most cases the premiums are paid entirely by the School District. Neither Blue Cross nor Health Net excludes "cancer and a few other horrible dseases". Such an exclusion is unheard of in the group health insurance industry.

The dispute this year is over who should cover the increase in premiums. I don't have exact figures for the District's specific health plans (these vary from employer to employer), but CalPERS contracts with Blue Cross for very similar plans and has had annual premium growth in the 10 to 20% range for several years. According to the Sentinel, the District has offered to pay 70% of this year's premium increase, leaving the employees to pay 30%.

Hypothetical example: Imagine that the monthly premium for HMO coverage is now $300 for one employee. This is paid entirely by the District. Imagine that the increase is 15% = $45. The District has offered to pay 70% of this = $31.50. The employee would pay $13.50. Summary: District will pay $331.50 per month, employee will pay $13.50 per month.

Many people do not realize that the Consumer Price Index includes healthcare costs; even employer-paid premiums are accounted for. If the teachers wish the District to cover the full premium increase this year, then they should accept a COLA that is in-line with CPI minus the healthcare component. (Note: the CPI is available on a local basis, so the high cost of living in Santa Cruz County, or rather, in the greater San Francisco Bay Area in general, is considered.)

Fair COLA for 2004 in Santa Cruz, based on local CPI data:
1. If employer also eats 100% of the health insurance premium increase - 1.16%
2. If employees eat 100% of the health insurance premium increase - 1.40%
Since the employer has proposed to eat 70% of the premium increase, the fair figure lies in between. I calculated 1.23%

As I said in the case of Safeway, if the total compensation paid to an employee group (wages + benefits) rises in-line with the CPI, the employees aren't losing ground economically. There is nothing special about health insurance: it's one of the many expenses included in the Consumer Price Index, and so, one of the many expenses that can be covered under a reasonable cost-of-living allowance (COLA).

When we assess total compensation for teachers, other issues do come up. For example: Has teacher pay kept pace with the CPI on a historical basis? (Cautious yes, cautious because wages have been stagnant recently.) Is the vast -- up to $34K -- pay gap between junior and senior teachers fair? (Definitely no, if you believe in equal pay for work of equal value. As in the case of Safeway, teachers' unions favor their senior members and devalue their junior ones.) Is the BASE wage (the starting point, before we even get to COLAs) reasonable, given teachers' high level of education and the great importance of their work? (A resounding no. At $51K after 10 years, a Santa Cruz public school teacher earns less than a Metro bus driver. The teacher spent 6 years at university to complete her certification, at her own expense. The teacher is required to attend continuing education classes throughout her working life, again at her own expense. The driver completed her commercial drivers' license training at Metro, all expenses paid. The physical exams and license renewals that she must complete throughout her career are likewise paid for by Metro. As for holidays -- people always accuse teachers of having too much time off -- the Metro driver receives 30.5 vacation days, 8 holidays, and 12 sick days (convertible to cash at retirement) for a total of 10 weeks off with pay each year. A teacher receives about the same amount, and doesn't even have her summers free anymore, with the new continuing education requirements. Note: I don't want to single out bus drivers. I could make some shockingly similar comparisons for senior Safeway clerks, line civil servants, auto workers, and others. Any way you slice it, either teachers are underpaid or many unskilled/semi-skilled employees are overpaid. I use the term "unskilled/semi-skilled" in an economic sense, not in a pejorative one.)

Clearly, teachers -- and especially junior teachers -- deserve a substantially higher BASE wage. Dickering over a 1% COLA and/or a few dollars a month in health insurance premiums is not the answer to recognizing the work that teachers do.

Info squares

As I understand it the health plan was changed over the summer. There is no longer a choice of plans. There is no chiropractic (try moving your classroom 2 times in 1 calendar year). The most popular former choice, Blue Cross Prudent, was downgraded to a 'more economical' Blue Cross plan. This is now the only plan offered.

Because the new plan has some 'holes', the district was legally obligated to officially inform the teachers that they were no longer covered for certain mishaps and illnesses. The insurance reps were hired to meet with the teachers during classroom hours.

There teachers were informed that when they lost their 'Prudent' coverage their disability insurance was also lost (they could now apply for workman's comp along with everybody else). Also lost was the excellent coverage for cancer related treatments like radiation and travel costs to and from treatments. Now there was a severe cap. Also, for those who don't believe in traditional medicine, coverage for alternative treatments was lost.

In place of these lost benefits the teachers were offered extra coverage payable out of their own pockets. I.e. they took a pay cut while their benefits deteriorated.

Also notable is the fact that there is no way to pay extra to try to recoup the lost coverage for a domestic partner.

I agree that all teachers, including those who are untenured, should be compensated for the work they do (as well as bus drivers; many of whom end up with serious back problems). But let's not forget that the programs, which have been developed over the years, didn't just appear but resulted from the labor (extra meetings, classes, workshops, planning, nights at kitchen tables) and many times the out-of-pocket spending of teachers who were there for years.

And most of all let's not forget that it is the insurance companies who are getting very rich.


No events for this day.

view calendar week
add an event


Media Centers

Syndication feeds

Account Login

This site made manifest by dadaIMC software