Valley Grove Responds to Strike Notice with Contract Details, Including 100% Rise in Healthcare Deductibles

| June 12, 2018

SUGARCREEK BOROUGH, Pa. (EYT) – The Valley Grove School Board responded to last week’s notice to strike by the Valley Grove Education Association (VGEA) by pointing out what its final offer to the VGEA was including large increases in the cost of healthcare.

The board states that the final offer included the overall healthcare deductible and healthcare copayments by the end of the contract as well as raises that fluctuated from 2.0 percent to 2.6 percent during the length of the contract.

After the VGEA on June 7 issued an intent to strike notice for Aug. 28, 2018, if a new contract hasn’t been reached by that date saying that as of June 7 it had been 705 days since the previous contract had expired, the Valley Grove School District (District) responded in a letter to the Valley Grove School District Community saying it had engaged “diligently” in the negotiation process with the VGEA since early 2016.

“During that time, we have met with the (VGEA) 14 times spending many hours each time working with the goal of reaching a fair, equitable and reasonable contract,” the letter said. “Recently, on May 23, 2018, the District extended a comprehensive final counter-proposal to the (VGEA), which (it) rejected.”

According to the letter, the proposal that was rejected by the VGEA included a number of provisions including doubling the in-network healthcare deductible by the end of the contract and raising certain healthcare copayments by as much as 150 percent by the end of the contract, increases the letter described as “small increases to co-payments”.

The current healthcare deductible of $200 for an individual and $400 for family would stay in place (retroactively) for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years before rising to $250 for individuals and $500 for family in the 2018-19 school year, $300 for individuals and $600 per family in 2019-20 school year and $400 for individuals and $800 for family by 2020-21 school year.

Meanwhile, copayments on physician office visits, specialist office visits, Emergency Room Services (waived if admitted) and urgent care services would increase by 150 percent by the end of the contract while copayments for diagnostic services (advanced imaging), basic diagnostic services and spinal manipulation (20 visits per benefit period) would rise 100 percent with copayments for physical therapy services and brand drugs raising 50 percent. Generic drug copayments would remain the same.

In layman’s terms, the copayment increase for a physician office visit and a specialist office visit would go from the $10 (retroactive from 2016-18) to $20 in 2018-19 to $25 in the last two years (2019-2021) of the proposed five-year contract.

The copayment increase for Emergency Room Services if not admitted would go from $50 from 2016-18 to $100 for 2018-19 and $125 from 2019-2021 with the increase in copayments for urgent care services increasing from $10 in 2016-18 to $20 for 2018-19 and $25 for 2019-2021.

The diagnostic service copayments – both advanced and basic – would increase from $10 in 2016-18 to $20 from 2019-2021 with the spinal manipulation and brand drug copayments moving from $15 in 2016-18 to $25 in 2018-19 to $30 in 2019-2021.

Physical therapy services copayments would go up 50 percent or $5 from $10 in 2016-18 to $15 in 2018-2021. Generic drug copayments would remain at $5 through the length of the contract.

The District also stated that employee contributions to the health insurance would remain at six percent with the 2018-19 plan cost being $395.52 per year for the teachers for the individual plan and 6,196.32 for the district, 983.88 per year for the teachers and $15,414.84 per year for the district for the parent/child(ren) plan, $1,102.44 per year for the teachers and $17,271.00 per year for the district for the two-person plan and $1,558.84 per year for the teachers and $18,155.56 for the district for the family plan.

The five-year contract also called for 185 work days, enhanced dental benefits, new vision benefits, an increase of the hourly wage rate by $1 to $30.10 at the start of the 2018-19 school year for additional hours worked beyond the regular school day.

Salary increases were also offered to the teachers at a 2.0 percent rate (retroactively) for 2016-17 and 2017-18, 2.5 percent for 2018-19 and 2.6 percent for 2019-20 and 2020-21. The district says those increases would cost $462,000.00.

The letter also stated that other district-funded financial incentives remaining in the contract included the pension plan (which is sponsored by the Commonwealth not the individual school districts through The Public School Employees’ Retirement System), life insurance, paid sick days, paid personal days, termination pay and continuing education assistance.

“The District was disappointed to learn May 24, 2018, that the (VGEA) rejected their comprehensive final counterproposal and decided to issue a strike notice,” the letter from the District said. “In a recent press release, the Association stated that the parties are only $56,000 apart in our salary proposals. Although that may seem insignificant, it must be noted that salaries are not a one-time fixed cost and instead compound over the years. The aforementioned $56,000 would compound to an astounding $560,000 additional cost over the next 10 years beyond the life of this contract. It is the responsibility of the school board to always consider the long-term effect of any offer.

“Throughout the ongoing negotiation process, the school board has and will continue to work on behalf of students, teachers and the community to ensure a fair and equitable contract that the taxpayers of the Valley Grove School District can support. The District is hopeful that the Association will choose to accept the offer proposed rather than go on strike.”

The VGEA, in issuing its strike directive media release, contested that number saying it is roughly $56,000 over the life of the contract not per year, as the District’s release would lead one to believe. The VGEA pointed to the wage increase and healthcare contributions as the “heart” of the disagreement.”

“The (VGEA) is proposing a 2.6 percent average increase and the school board insisting on average increases of 2.34 percent – a difference of roughly $56,000 total over the life of the contract,” Amanda Fox Culver, the VGEA president said. “On healthcare, the (VGEA) has already proposed to increase their contributions and to move those increases from the last year of the proposed five-year contract to the 2018-2019 school year. What should not be in dispute, according to the Association, is the school district’s ability to fund fair increases without compromising its nearly unheard of 70 percent fund balance.”

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