Teachers settle dispute over health care change

After several very difficult weeks of negotiations and some hard feelings over the process, The Trumbull Education Association, the bargaining unit for teachers in Trumbull, has reached an agreement with the town over the change in the health care plan from Anthem to the new CT Partnership 2.0 plan.

The new plan will be saving both teachers and the town on health care costs. Final figures are not yet available as there are several other bargaining units that cover other Board of Education employees who have not yet ratified the change.

The agreement will not only cover the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2016, the final year of the teachers’ current contract, but will also extend for three additional years as part of the next collective bargaining agreement that will be fully negotiated beginning this summer.

The analysis conducted by the teachers to determine the difference in coverage between the current Anthem plan and the new state plan, called the disruption analysis, yielded a ratio of 86.5%. As part of the negotiations, Quest and several doctors were added to the plan bringing the comparison of the two plans to over 90%.  The final agreement lowers the teachers’ percentage of the cost of their health care coverage from the existing 20.5% down to 18%, 18.5%, 19%, and then 19.5% in the final year. With the reduced cost of the plan and the reduced percentage contribution, teachers will see a decrease in the cost of their coverage while the town will still see an overall reduction in health care costs.

Tammy Baillargeon, co-president of the TEA, told the Trumbull Times that “it’s unfortunate that the Board of Education voted on the change before there was the opportunity for everyone to have all the information needed, but [Supt.] Dr. [Gary] Cialfi did a very good job of communicating with us over the last few weeks and we are happy with the final result of the negotiations with the board.”  

The decision to accept the new health care plan eliminated the need to issue 80 “pink slips” to teachers, which made the special Board of Education meeting scheduled for Monday, April 25, to vote to approve the layoffs unnecessary.  Several dozen concerned residents had shown up to the meeting which lasted for only a few minutes and did not allow for public comments.  While there has been speculation on social media that the teachers only agreed to the new health care plan in the last hours before the vote to eliminate the 80 positions, the final terms of the agreement were essentially completed over two weeks ago, but because of the school vacation and the unavailability of some of the attorneys involved, the official signings could not be completed until Monday.

At the Tuesday night school board Finance Committee meeting, health care costs were also the main concern for the current fiscal year as Board of Education health care costs are running 14% over budget through the end of March. The current Anthem plan is self-funding, so the town is responsible for actual costs, which are approximately $1.5 million over the budget. There is $2.4 million in reserves to help cover the overage and there are two stop-gap policies in place that may mitigate some of the exposure. There are expected savings in fuel costs, facilities and salaries, but at present, there is a potential gap of $600,000 to $700,000 that must be closed.

Business Manager Sean O’Keefe has implemented a spending freeze for all non-essential expenditures and is optimistic the final BOE expenses will come in very close to budget.

At the meeting, Republican Paul Lavoie made it clear that the news from Hartford on the proposed reduction in Trumbull’s education funds from the state would be reduced by over $600,000 would not directly affect next year’s budget since those funds flow into the town’s general fund, not into the education budget. If the state ultimately does make cuts, it will be up to the Board of Finance to decide how to cover the shortfall with the option of reducing the education budget, reducing the town-side portion of the budget, or changing the mill rate.