Philadelphia teachers will soon pay for their own health care

PRIORITIES: The Philadelphia School Reform Commission will shift $44 million from teacher benefits to needy schools.

Stacia Friedman | Watchdog.org

PHILADELPHIA — Should teachers pay for their own health care coverage? Ready or not, they’re about to in Pennsylvania’s biggest city.

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission is restructuring teacher health benefits, redirecting $44 million from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers contract to the schools. Next year, the savings from health care costs are estimated to be $49 million. If teachers contributed to their health plan for three years, the district could save $100 million.

“Philadelphia is one of only two districts across the commonwealth that pays zero toward healthcare. It is now time that members of the PFT join the thousands of public school employees across the state who already contribute to their health care costs,” stated Governor Tom Corbett in a press release.

“We now have increased our stable, predictable revenue by approximately $212 million when you combine the cigarette tax, the sales tax, and the action taken today,” said SRC chairman Bill Green.

“Under the new plan, teachers will be required to pay 10-13 percent of their health care costs,” said Cindy Hamill-Dahlgren, director of strategic communications at the Commonwealth Foundation. “The average private health care plan requires participants to contribute 23 percent.”

The changes are to take effect starting Dec. 15, requiring employee contributions ranging from $27 to $71 per paycheck. These funds are expected to restore much-needed counseling services, reading specialists, teacher aides, advanced classes in foreign languages, materials and supplies.

Some teachers are for the move.

Marion R., a North Philadelphia middle school teacher for 35 years who declined to give her last name due to her ongoing affiliation with the PFT, said they “absolutely” should.

“The union has overstepped the boundaries,” she said. “My daughter works for a health care company and pays for her health care coverage. There’s nothing wrong with teachers doing the same.”

The PFT views SRC’s actions as “union-busting.” PFT spokesperson George Jackson said, “We’re going to fight this.”

District spokesman Fernando A. Gallard issued a statement that said “the contract changes do not affect other economic provisions of the FT bargaining agreement and allow the District to avoid both salary cuts and layoffs at this time.” The critical words being “at this time.”

Public sentiment about the SRC is precarious. The Philadelphia City Council recently passed legislation to place a referendum on the ballot calling for disbanding the SRC, and mayoral candidate Ken Trujillo pledged to get rid of the SRC, if elected. With popular support for the SRC waning, shifting funds to the schools might be a bid to win back parents’ (and voters) confidence.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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