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District rejects request for increased teacher paycheck deductions

An order from a Teachers Health Trust official to increase paycheck deductions for the coming school year was rejected by Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones as an illegal request.

The increase, which was not approved by either the district or the teachers affected, was sought for higher health insurance rates.

“They wanted to put their hands into teachers’ pockets but tell us to do it for them,” school district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said Thursday.

The district refused to make the deductions, according to a mass email sent to its 17,000 teachers Thursday. That message runs counter to that of the trust, which told teachers in July that $8 more would be deducted per biweekly paycheck for Diamond plans and $5 more for Platinum plans.

Higher co-pays that could total an additional $250 per month in prescription costs for those requiring maintenance drugs also are planned.

Increases to prescription costs have been outside the district’s control, not occurring through pay deductions. One teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said a medication that used to cost her $50 now costs $180.

Peter Alpert, health trust CEO since 2000, said in an Aug. 7 letter to the district that former Superintendent Walt Rulffes and district administrators never required negotiations or approval from teachers for such changes. But the contract requires both sides to “negotiate with the other regarding any proposed substantive benefit changes.” The Clark County School Board must then approve changes.

Lisa Muntean , chairwoman of the Clark County Education Association’s negotiation team, argued at Thursday’s School Board meeting that the district has no reason to interfere. The deductions cost the district nothing, she said.

“The money we spend would be our money,” she said.

The teachers union created the trust, and the two organizations overlap in operation.

But Jones said teachers were given no choice in the rate increase.

“The members can’t be just notified,” he said Thursday. “There has to be a vote.”

The anonymous teacher was of the same opinion, saying, “We want fair voting rights.”

The teacher said she emailed the union but got no response.

Jones emphasized his refusal isn’t based on a belief that rates should remain unchanged.

“Even if we wanted to say, ‘We get it. Health costs have probably gone up. Here, we’ll just do it,’ I’m not allowed by law to go into the payroll system and deduct more money from a teacher’s paycheck,” Jones said.

The district laid this out in its Aug. 3 refusal letter to the trust, referencing the state law which “specifically prohibits employers from decreasing compensation and willfully failing to pay wages due to employees.”

In that letter, the district also threatened to cut off the union’s access to the payroll system should it attempt to make the deductions itself.

The school district has little power to keep prescription costs constant, however, though the contract requires the union and district to negotiate any changes to benefits, Jones said. He said the district’s only option in the case of increased co-pays would be to seek a court injunction, but that decision hasn’t been made.

Jones predicted the union and trust would portray him as the “big bad superintendent” trying to kill the teachers’ health trust. Muntean argued just that at Thursday’s School Board meeting, contending the district’s refusal to increase paycheck deductions is an attempt to quash the health trust.

Alpert also laid the blame for rate increases at the district’s doorstep, writing in a July explanation to teachers that the “trust hasn’t received an increase from CCSD since July 1, 2008, yet the cost of health care has continued to rise.”

In addition to what teachers pay for health insurance through salary deductions, the school district gives the trust $546 per teacher per month, according to the contract.

That amount hasn’t increased since 2008. Yet the union didn’t ask for the district’s payments to increase during last year’s contentious negotiations, which ended with an arbitration win for the union.

The terms won by the union did not include an increase to teachers’ insurance rates, an increase to the district’s contributions to the trust or benefit reductions.

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

 

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