Clay Community School Board President Terry Barr is dismayed about the ongoing contract dispute with the Clay Community Classroom Teacher's Association (CCCTA).
"I would like this resolved with all my heart," Barr said, via telephone interview on Wednesday.
Barr said that historically, raises were freely given because new money from the state was spent on raises and benefits to corporation employees.
"We can't do this anymore," Barr said. "The tremendous cost of health insurance absorbs any funds we do receive. While the board understands that health insurance is the most critical issue we have, the fact is, that $9 out of every $10 we receive is spent on health insurance."
According to Barr, the insurance premiums for the corporation have increased 54.57 percent during the past five years, and there are no indications that rate will do anything other than continue to increase.
"Our insurance costs went up $69,700 from 2000-01, $240,600 from 2001-02, $321,000 from 2002-03 and $181,400 from 2003-04," Barr said. "The only reason it decreased that year was because we changed the insurance for all non-teaching staff. We raised their deductible and slightly increased their co-pay."
Barr said insurance has continued to climb, increasing $255,400 in 2004-05, $183,000 in 2005-06 and $231,419 for 2006-07. She said that the board is getting ready to take insurance bids for the current year.
"It's becoming harder and harder to find companies to bid who will cover the corporation with the coverage that the CCCTA contract states," Barr said. "We could only find two companies to bid last time that had plans that included a zero deductible."
According to Barr, the total cost to the corporation for health insurance in 2006 was $2,707,614.
The school board is taking steps to try to find a compromise with the issues of insurance. They are asking bidding companies to lay out plans with a zero, $250, $500 and more deductible, and hope to find a plan that the board and the CCCTA can agree on.
"I know that health insurance is the most expensive, controllable expense that the corporation has," Barr said. "I feel that with team effort, we can come to a resolution. This is an issue for all of the corporation, and we need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."
There is no denying that the health insurance issue is a hot topic, and has been for more than five years. Barr ran for the school board as this contract dispute was just beginning, and has seen many changes during the last five years.
"The corporation is on its third mediator, second superintendent, second finance manager and the board itself has changed," Barr said. "I, myself, ran to support teachers and the students. I find it ironic that I am seen as their enemy, when I would give them every penny I could, because they deserve it. But, if I agree to what the CCCTA is asking for, I have financial statements that project that, if the insurance plan doesn't change, the corporation will be broke by next year."
In addition to the health insurance issue, the corporation is dealing with retirement benefits and trying to compromise with the issues of retroactive raises for the CCCTA.
"In the CCCTA contract, it states that when a teacher retires that they will receive certain benefits," Barr said. "There is approximately $2.3 million dollars in the general fund that is set aside for those benefits. The board is being faithful to those promises."
While insurance costs to the corporation have increased in the past five years, other expenses have also, adding to the corporation's financial burden.
"Five years ago," Barr said, "we were using 82 percent of the general fund for salaries and benefits. Now we are using 93.8 percent. That leaves less than 7 percent to be spent on what the corporation needs. Utilities have increased, supplies cost more, and everyone knows that we need to replace some equipment.
"The reality is, we are dealing with today's expenses, but we are using up tomorrows funds on yesterday's promises."
With issues of health insurance costs, retirement costs and salary raises, the contract dispute has created ill feelings on both sides, a situation that Barr dislikes and would change if she could.
"I honestly don't know what else we can do," Barr said. "The corporation has been working on a new salary schedule that extends the pay-per-year of service out several more years, and they were also offered a lump sum retroactive raise. It wasn't as much as they wanted, but the board is trying to compromise. This was the proposal that allegedly insulted the CCCTA and caused them to walk out on negotiations."
According to Barr, the corporation will continue to work with numbers and try to negotiate with the CCCTA.
"The bottom line is we have two choices," Barr said. "A new contract can make life happy for everyone or the corporation can sit a year from now trying to decide what schools to close, what programs to cut, what teachers to cut and how many kids can fit into a classroom."