At upwards of $25,000 per year for family coverage, the Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance plan that a number of school districts in Fulton and Montgomery counties got roped into buying for their teachers years ago and now can’t walk away from, is fancier than the proverbial Cadillac, it’s a Rolls-Royce.
Costing more than double last year’s national average of $12,680, the insurance plan is blowing holes in the schools’ budgets that will likely require teacher layoffs and school closings. Under state law, the school districts can only switch to a cheaper plan if the unions agree, and so far they’ve been unwilling to — which is perhaps understandable from a personal standpoint, but hardly defensible. In a word, it’s selfish.
The Broadalbin-Perth district, where the Blues’ Indemnity Plan costs the district $26,112 for a family of four, faces a $1.7 million budget deficit that would take, among things, 20 layoffs to close. The district could save hundreds of thousands of dollars by switching to a cheaper PPO (preferred provider organization) plan that would have lower employee co-pays and provide excellent coverage. It would save $7,000 per employee, still costing 50 percent more than the national average, but so far the teachers union wants no part of it.
Maintaining the status quo — same health coverage and no layoffs — would require a 20 percent tax hike, but there’s virtually no way that would pass muster with district voters, who’ve shot down two of the last four budgets. So unless there’s a change of heart soon, there will have to be layoffs (which, among other things, will lead to larger class sizes).
In Johnstown, which has the same Indemnity Plan, district officials are preparing to close an elementary school to save $882,000 next year. That’s almost exactly the amount its Blue Cross Blue Shield premium will rise next year, so the impact couldn’t be clearer.
No employee likes to make concessions over money or benefits, but when a relatively small one can save numerous colleagues the severe pain of losing their jobs in a rotten economy, or a school from being closed, it’s hard to imagine union leaders not being willing to at least put the question to the rank and file for a vote.