BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando School District and the local teachers union are one step closer to an agreement on how to cover an increase in health insurance premiums.
The Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, during bargaining talks on Thursday evening, said it was prepared to accept the district's insurance offer, but hoped the School Board would budge on other issues such as a new bereavement leave policy and additional supplemental pay for teachers who take on extra duties.
Blue Cross Blue Shield hit the district with a 9 percent increase this year. As part of the board's offer, the district would cover all but $5 of the hike for single employees on the HMO plan. The monthly cost to the employee would increase to $30. The district's monthly contribution would increase by $42.56, to $503.42.
Employees on plans that cover family members would have to dig deeper.
The monthly cost for the HMO plan for an employee plus spouse would increase by $47.90, to $549.68. The monthly cost for an employee plus children would increase by $39.72, to $450.52. And the cost for an employee plus family would jump $86.70, to $1,019.74.
The total additional expense to the district would be $662,148 for the 2010-11 fiscal year on top of the estimated $15.6 million expense of insurance benefits.
About 2,300 of 2,500 eligible employees opt for district health insurance, and all but a few hundred or so choose an HMO plan. The Hernando United School Workers, which represents non-instructional employees, has already accepted the same insurance deal.
Last year, when the premium increase came in at 14.5 percent, the teacher union wanted the district to pitch in more for employees with families to help soften the financial blow. The board balked on philosophical grounds, arguing that's not a fair policy, and that position hasn't changed, Heather Martin, executive director of business services, said last month.
Union leaders decided not to press the issue this year with budget concerns in mind and because open enrollment is already under way, HCTA president Joe Vitalo said.
"We understand the funds are tight and the time is even tighter," Vitalo said.
When the board made the current offer last month, it came with a caveat: If the union accepts, there would be no more talks on money issues this year. That irked union leaders who said they didn't plan to ask for a raise this year beyond the automatic annual "step" increase, which is based on experience, already built into the union contract.
But the union does have other goals. Among them: three days per year of leave for bereavement or emergencies; additional supplemental pay for varsity coaches whose season extends into the playoffs; and two more supplemental positions for history fair coordinators.
The union also wants to take more control over teacher planning time by broadening the current language in the contract to state that administrative meetings and other activities required by administrators should account for no more than 20 percent — or one period per week — of weekly planning time.
Teachers have limited time to grade assignments and develop lesson plans, and meetings called by administrators are imposing on that time, union officials said.
Union leaders told Martin that the insurance agreement can be agreed to separately, and sooner, and the other issues can be tackled in the coming weeks.
That bodes well for reaching an agreement, said Martin, who will go back to the School Board with the counteroffers. The next bargaining meeting is Oct. 27.
"We're definitely close," she said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.