GTA, GUSD Negotiations stalled over health care

By Brandon HENSLEY

Negotiations between the Glendale Teachers Association and the Glendale Unified School District have intensified recently, and the main roadblock is a problem that is being felt nationwide.
Because the state continues to pull funding for education, the district has proposed a new health care plan to save money for the long term.
“At the end of the 2012-13 [school year], we’re projected to have a $50 million deficit,” said John Garcia, assistant superintendent and human resources director of GUSD. “We cannot continue to afford this and maintain financial viability for the long term.”
Citing reasons such as rising annual rates, the district has offered to cap health benefits  and allow certain teachers to pay for a PPO plan. “The only ones that would have to pay are the 28% of folks who have a family PPO plan. The other 72% would not have to pay anything through at least June 2011,” Garcia said.
Steve Fields, the bargaining chair for the Teachers Association, said his members are not on board with the plan.
“We are adamantly against any type of cap,” he said.

While the teachers currently have a fully paid HMO plan, Fields said a lot of that money has come out of their COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) and the result has put their salaries below the median in L.A. county.Fields said recently the district asked the teachers to come up with $3.8 million in savings. The teachers offered to give five furlough days a year over three years. “[The district] came in and showed we could get through not only this year but the next two years and meet their goal of the savings they requested from us,” Fields said. According to Fields, the district turned on that decision and instead wanted to cap health benefits.
Fields explained his reasoning against the cap: “If you agree to a cap this year at a certain amount, they’ll come back next year and they’ll want to decrease that cap or they’ll want to go after your HMO cap if they’ve gone after your PPO, so it will hurt everybody…it might not affect you six years down the road. Someday it will affect you. Someday you’re going to be paying out of your pocket.”
Garcia maintained that containing the health benefits costs is the right move because it would affect less than 30% of the members.
The issue of changing the school calendar is also a pressing matter. The district is proposing moving up the start date to mid-August and having the year end in early June. Garcia said this would allow an extra two weeks of instruction for the high school exit exam, and would allow students to enroll in summer courses in time for schools such as Glendale Community College.
Fields said the teachers are “widely divided” on the calendar proposal. “It makes sense for some [grade levels] to have an early start, and it doesn’t make so much sense for others.,” he said.
Fields said the teachers may have accepted an early start time if the district had abided their requests for specific classroom temperatures to be written into the bargaining agreement.
The teachers would like the contract to state that classrooms must be between 68 to 72 degrees. Garcia said that is already the district’s policy, although it not written in the contract.
“Typically, the specific temperatures are not set in a collective bargaining agreement. They’re a matter of policy and we’ve agreed to follow all of our policies regarding temperatures,” Garcia said.
Fields said if the district could change the policy after the teachers sign a contract that does not include those temperatures, and said the district is “assuming we’re ignorant to that fact.”
A meeting was scheduled for earlier this week, but was cancelled.
The two sides are tentatively set to meet again Feb. 3.