Teachers call on town to address health care costs
Dozens of educators filled Town Hall on Monday to send a message to the Select Board: health care costs need to be lowered.
The demands come as the educators’ union enters the latest round of contract negotiations with the School Committee, who will ultimately decide whether to contribute more to the premiums.
“We’re just here to share our concerns and let the Select Board know we’re serious about having a fair cost to our insurance,” said Renee Vieira, the president of the Dartmouth Educators Association.
The union’s current contract officially expired in June, creating the latest round of negotiations.
Drawn-out negotiations are not unusual for Dartmouth teachers. Educators worked without new contracts for nearly the entire 2016-2017 school year and had to enter mediation. The contract was signed in June 2017 after dragging on for nearly two years.
Currently, the town covers 54% of the cost, while teachers pay the remaining 46% of their health care bills. Costs ranged from $130.31 to $324.17 a week depending on the plan and whether the coverage is for individuals or families.
The town’s rates are among the highest in the region, Vieira said. The only community that comes close is Fairhaven, which has its rates split 60/40.
The main issue with the ratio, she said, is that staff pay is not rising at the same rate as these premiums.
Prior to the ratification of the union’s 2019 contract, healthcare costs were split 48/52. Before that, Vieira said, rates were at an even 50/50 for many years, the lowest the school district can go.
“It took a lot of work to get the town to consider taking [on] 2% more,” Vieira said.
Lowering the amount educators need to contribute to the health plan, Vieira said, could help prevent employees leaving the district. Vieira noted that a number of teachers in recent years have gone to New Bedford, which has its educators contribute 25%
“[It’s] the same health care, but it costs quite a bit less,” she said.
According to Vieira, a proposal from the educators association has been sent to the School Committee for review. She added that school officials will give their feedback after they speak with the Select Board, which is why the teachers came out to Town Hall Monday.
“We just want a fair cost and for the board to support us,” she said.
Select Board Chair David Tatelbaum said he could not comment on the negotiations, but that he supported the educators’ right to voice their opinions at the board’s meeting.
“Health care is a giant issue,” he said.