By Tommy Chan
Teaching without Benefits
November 16, 2017
LAUSD: LAUSD Examining Health Care Cuts for Faculty and Staff
Teachers are uniting from all ends of the nation’s second largest school district to protest proposed cuts to healthcare benefits that the The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has placed on the negotiation table.
The new LAUSD School Board with a pro-charter school majority met on Sept. 26 to discuss the actions they could take to make the operations more effective and efficient. The central topic of the meeting was the rising cost of current healthcare benefits and what could be done to lower them.
The current level of benefits that LAUSD provides for faculty and staff is known to be one of the most generous in the country, consisting of a package which covers medical care, dental and vision plans, life insurance and much more.
All these benefits come at a cost, however.
With over 188,000 employees, retirees and dependents reliant on the current health plan, LAUSD designates approximately $1.1 billion out of their $7 billion annual budget towards healthcare benefits.
Decreasing student enrollment in schools is depleting LAUSD’s limited budget, as is the rising cost of healthcare coverage.
Being a public school district, LAUSD relies on funding from the government to pay for salaries, materials and programs. The amount the district receives depends on the number of students enrolled in the schools.
“We’ve been losing our [student] enrollment as the years progress,” states LAUSD Chief Financial Officer Scott Price. “But even though we’re losing enrollment, what we pay for healthcare benefits continues to rise.”
With decreasing enrollment rates leading to a decrease in government funding, LAUSD must find ways to make up for the shortfall.
This is where the healthcare cuts come in.
The district has proposed four different types of cuts that could be made to the current healthcare plan. They can either take away dependent healthcare coverage, the full family healthcare coverage, current premium-free care or the insurance plan choices.
Janice Sawyer, the district’s chief risk officer, contends the district options are not just random cuts here and there—they have been carefully explained in detailed scenarios.
If the option which excludes dependents from the plan were to be selected, the district would be able to save $434 million a year. Likewise, covering only the employee or retiree plus a single dependent would save up to $138 million per year, according to district calculations.
These changes, according to the district, would not be be implemented without the consent of those being affected. Negotiations with the unions representing the teachers and district staff must take place.
The eight unions representing the administration, faculty, and staff of the LAUSD schools met with the board to discuss their concerns and collective dismay over the district’s proposed cuts. They contend that the district management is top-heavy and wasteful.
One of those unions, the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which represents all teachers in the district and negotiates on their behalf, is calling on the district to maintain the plans at current levels.
“We reject any concessions” states a UTLA flyer protesting the proposed cuts to its chapters at over a thousand schools in the LA Unified District.
Teachers and staff participated in a district-wide, early morning picket on Oct. 11 at their respective schools throughout the district.
“There were a lot of people out there and it showed a lot of camaraderie, a lot of concern, and that should continue,” said UTLA Chapter Co-Chair Robert Crosby, who, along with his fellow Chapter Co-Chair Karin Byrne, coordinated the Van Nuys High School picket.
“This will make it harder for the district to make these cuts. People should continue to be more active and more proactive in trying to convince the district that this isn’t a smart idea.”
The reason for such immediate unified reactions and negotiations are because health care plans must be negotiated a year in advance. Currently, these plans are negotiated for a three- to four-year period with the current plan expiring in January of 2019.
One of the few new propositions that were brought to the table, aside from the initial arguments, was made on Oct. 26 when LAUSD offered to maintain the healthcare benefits at its current level until the year 2020.
Although this may seem like a victory for the LAUSD faculty and staff, the change also proposed to freeze annual district contributions to the healthcare funds. Accompanied with the continually rising costs for these benefits. the funds will have to be drawn from the healthcare reserves, which is thought to be extremely unstable and encourages future cuts.
Disregarding this proposal, the unions will continue to fight for maintenance of the current plan with the district covering all costs while LAUSD will continue to negotiate for plans that reduce financial expenses.
While there are benefits and drawbacks to each side of the argument, there is no clear indication on which direction negotiations will take.
Both the districts and unions have an agreed-upon March 22, 2018 deadline to resolve the issue.
If the parties fail to come to up with a mutually-acceptable plan, the unions could take further action, such as work stoppages, walkouts or even a strike.