Page 4 THE VILLADOM TIMES I • August 5, 2009 Franklin Lakes Trustees, teachers at impasse over health plan by Frank J. McMahon The Franklin Lakes Board of Education and the Franklin Lakes Education Association, which represents the teachers, instructional aides, secretaries and other nonmanagerial employees, are deadlocked in their negotiations for a new contract. The main point of contention is the teachers’ health plan. Negotiations for the 2009-12 contract began in January. The board has suggested changes in the health plan to address the rising cost of health insurance, which the board claims has escalated to a level the district and the community cannot sustain. The association feels the state health plan is inferior to the current plan and would result in large increases the outof-pocket cost of health insurance to its members. According to School Board President Carmen Monte, the state’s health plan is currently used by many districts throughout the state and is used for retired teachers. She says the change in plans would save the district approximately $658,416, or $54,868 per month, and both plans use Blue Cross and share many of the same in-network medical providers. According to Monte, the principal differences in moving to the state’s plan would be a $5 increase to office visit copays, increases in plan deductibles of $200 per family for in-network providers, and $1,600 per individual and $4,200 per family for out of network providers, and a $1,000,000 lifetime plan maximum for out-of-network expenses. “Although the benefits and level of service for employees would remain substantially the same under the proposed health benefits program, the association declined to engage in any dialogue regarding this or any other proposals,” Monte said. “Instead, the association unilaterally ended the negotiations process and, shortly thereafter, filed a formal declaration of impasse with the Public Employment Relations Commission.” Donna Luciano, president of the association, said her organization’s members do not view the change in health plans as minor. “We have a problem with the out-of-network coverage of the state plan where the out-of-pocket expenses go from $400 and $800 for individuals and families to $2,000 and $5,000,” Luciano said. “It’s not just the deductibles, it’s the out-of-pocket expenses that really increase, and well care visits are not covered at all, and that’s a huge difference. “We would like to move forward and understand exactly what money the board does have and where they are spending their money. It is our feeling that cutting our members is not the only way for them to save money. It is just the method they have chosen to try and address the savings they need to make.” Spicing up summer The Spicy Jalapeno Book Club is a group of kids that formed a book club on their own last year. They meet every two weeks. They love to read and get together to discuss the books. This summer, they are reading ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ by Mark Twain. This September, the club members will be entering sixth grade at Franklin Lakes Middle School. Front row: Derek Mahler and Anthony Ruggiero. Back row: Hope Rice, Peter Mercedes and Emily McMichael. Monte said the board has attempted to resolve this dispute through mediation on three separate occasions without success even though the association was advised that the insurance premiums for the Horizon Direct Access Plan would be increasing by 35 percent, or $290,617 above the amount approved by the taxpayers for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. “Without a concession on benefits,” Monte said, “this shortfall would necessitate the elimination of jobs and programs within the district.” She added, “Unfortunately, the association has declined to consider any change to the current health benefits plan and the board was forced to eliminate twelve positions from the 2009-2010 school budget.” Then, Monte continued, in an effort to avoid the need to further reduce staff and critical educational programs, the board acted to replace the current health plan with the state plan effective Aug. 1. But the association filed a charge against the board with PERC alleging the board committed an unfair labor practice and requested an injunction prohibiting the board from switching health plans. Luciano argued that the association is following the process of negotiations and it believes it was illegal for the board to change the health plan after the contract expired, and to do so violated the collective bargaining process. In July, the board postponed the effective date of the change in plans until Dec. 1, but Monte said if the association’s requested injunction is granted and no agreement is reached, the board would be forced to remain in the current health plan without sufficient funds in the budget to pay the increased premiums. If that happens Monte said the board will be left with no alternative but to eliminate additional jobs and educational programs within the district and, since many of the secondary positions have already been reduced, she said further cuts would necessarily result in the elimination of more programs and extracurricular activities, and teaching staff positions would be eliminated, which could impact class sizes. Monte advised that another mediation session is scheduled for sometime in August. If an agreement cannot be reached, PERC will conduct fact-finding and make a recommendation to both sides in the dispute. That situation could extend the dispute to the end of the next school year. 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