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Published: Tuesday, 2/10/2004

Health-care costs top issue in TPS-teacher talks

BY SANDRA SVOBODA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Health-care costs - including the co-payments the teachers union leadership promised in advance of November s levy vote - are the biggest issue in the ongoing contract negotiations between Toledo Public Schools administration and the three employee unions, district officials said yesterday.

“We re in the process of negotiating. We don t have a conclusion as of yet, but we re making progress and we re working together to come up with some concessions for insurance,” Superintendent Eugene Sanders said.

Contracts for the district s roughly 4,800 teachers, administrators, and staff expire at the end of next month.

“The issue of insurance and co-payments is one that we ve been reviewing very significantly. In addition to co-pays, we re looking at framing an insurance package that provides still good coverage for our employees but also looks at cost-saving options for the district as well,” Dr. Sanders said.

Health-care costs for the district have increased about 15 percent annually the last few years. In 2002-2003, the district spent about $28.5 million of its $328 million budget for employees health insurance claims.

Weeks before the November levy renewal vote, Toledo Federation of Teachers President Francine Lawrence announced she had agreed to add $10 co-payments for office visits, $25 for urgent care, and $50 for emergency rooms and would ask her membership for a vote.

District officials estimated that such a move would save the district at least $1 million annually. But a vote has not been scheduled. Mrs. Lawrence did not return a telephone call yesterday seeking comment.

In a letter to 3,100 members last month, she wrote that all the unions “are cooperating in an effort to construct new benefit options that preserve benefits and reduce the drain on the board s general fund.”

Board of education President David Welch said the delay in implementing co-pays has been both sides willingness to discuss broader insurance reforms that would save even more money. Those talks have taken place for months, he said.

“That s what s holding it up. We went back to the unions and said, Let s take a look at the whole health-care package, ” he said. “The unions are working very cooperatively with the administration on this issue.”

Pat Cook, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2174, which has about 360 clerical workers, said her unit began bargaining with the district last week.

The district s four AFSCME locals have agreed to two contract extensions since their pact expired at the end of November, she said.

“I don t think it s any secret that health care is the major topic. Health care is probably the only major topic,” she said.

David McClellan, president of the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel, which represents about 240 school personnel, refused to discuss any terms of talks between his union and the district.

“I would just say we ve met numerous times and are continuing to meet this week,” he said. “I m not going to comment on the status of negotiations.”



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