BROOKSVILLE — Teachers and other school district employees pleaded for help Tuesday night from the Hernando County School Board over health insurance premiums that are poised to increase, as much as doubling for some employees. Some said the rate increases would throw their family finances into disarray and force them to look for other jobs.
Board members voted 4-1 to renew a contract with Florida Blue. The premiums increase by about 10 percent for the district overall for 2020. Unless the district renegotiates its contribution to employee premiums during contract talks, employees could face increases that are proportionally much higher, according to information the School Board reviewed.
The increases are most pronounced for employee-only plans. One would increase employee premiums by more than 60 percent, from $99.69 to $163.12 a month, and another would more than double the premium, from $57.29 to $116.58 a month. Larger family plan premiums would go up by a lesser percentage.
Board member Jimmy Lodato was the lone dissenting vote, saying that he couldn’t support putting “a tremendous burden on our teachers.”
Other board members and district officials noted that the board was in a tough spot. If they turned down the health insurance contract renewal, they would leave district employees uninsured. Superintendent John Stratton said the district will look for other options for insurance next year.
“I understand, it’s a lot higher when it comes to your actual payments,” he said. "It’s a horrible amount. None of us want to see insurance go up, and we’re going to do whatever we can to curb that cost or bring it down in the future.”
Lisa Becker, the district’s executive director of business services, said the insurance company told the district during negotiations this year that it raised rates because district claims were higher than expected this year. Becker said negotiations with Florida Blue finished earlier this month, but employees complained that they weren’t notified of the increase until last week.
Employees who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting said the increase, as it looks now, would be crushing. Some said they would look for jobs in neighboring districts or may have to leave teaching altogether. Others said they already struggle to live on their paychecks, sometimes working other jobs, and didn’t see how they could afford to pay more for insurance.
“I just hope you’ve exhausted all options possible before we, as the teachers, have to eat the money,” said Laura Santiago, a teacher for 16 years. "I’m not saying cover the whole thing, but can you meet us somewhere on it?”
Teachers union president Vince Laborante said that a bargaining session between district officials and union leaders is scheduled for next week. He said the bargaining units would discuss having the district bear more of the cost of the increase.
"I’m very hopeful that there will be some information presented that will relieve some of this angst and anxiety,” he said.