A proposal by a state mediator assigned to contract negotiations between the Buffalo Board of Education and the teachers union recommended that teachers who now have fully covered health insurance be required to contribute to the plans.
It also recommended the district combine five annual salary increases – called steps – into one and that school officials change the early retirement incentive to increase the years of service needed to qualify and decrease the benefits by tens of thousands of dollars.
The board discussed the report in a closed session during its Wednesday meeting.
The Buffalo Teachers Federation said it wants a new mediator because the report “favors the school district.”
“We found his report to be unacceptable,” said BTF President Phillip Rumore, who originally requested a mediator in 2005. He said he sent a letter this week asking the New York State Public Employment Relations Board to assign a new mediator.
He said the union will move forward this week with contempt charges against the district due to the board’s decision to reduce the number of health care insurers for employees to one from three.
Attorney Dennis J. Campagna, the mediator, issued the proposal Wednesday. It provides direction for both parties on the health care issue. It recommended that litigation be discontinued and a joint labor management committee be created to research, investigate and make recommendations to Superintendent Pamela Brown and Rumore.
Meanwhile, the district would stay with one health insurer as long as the replacement plan provides the same or better coverage than the plan it replaces, and the cosmetic rider would be removed.
Although Rumore said earlier this week that teachers would agree to a single health insurer, he directed the union’s attorney to proceed immediately with contempt proceedings against the district for not following an appeals court’s ruling that it go back to three health insurance carriers.
The report also recommends requiring teachers to pay 10 percent of their health care under one carrier, which would be an additional expense to teachers, Rumore said. “Teachers on a family plan would pay $2,360 annually,” he said.
The report proposed a $50 increase in prescription co-pays and an increase in co-pays for doctor’s visits to $20 from $5.
In terms of annual salary increases, the mediator recommended phasing out the first five steps of the salary schedule and combining them into one, “which would boost local teachers’ salaries,” Rumore said, but it would also present a problem.
When the control board froze salaries for all Buffalo employees for three years and then lifted the freeze in 2007, instead of each teacher going back to the step they were on before the freeze, they went up only one, Rumore explained.
The BTF lost a court battle to get that one-step increase overturned, so now teachers are three or four steps behind where they should be, Rumore said. That has repercussions.
Rumore said that if a Buffalo teacher is on step five today but would have been on step nine before the wage freeze, “if you take away five of those steps and roll them into one” as the report proposes, “a Buffalo teacher would be placed at step four, which is four steps behind their correct placement.”
And that teacher would be four steps behind a teacher hired from another district with eight years of service. “But if the teacher’s salary had continued under the original salary schedule, that teacher would be at step 13,” Rumore said.
The report recommended changes to the early retirement incentive package, changing the minimum years of service from 15 to 20 and decreasing the benefits from approximately $20,000 to $5,000, “hardly an incentive,” Rumore said.