For $180 a month, it looks like the Rockford Education Association and the Rockford School District could take its teachers out on a Spring vacation, leaving thousands of students and parents stranded.
Though teachers could walk today, there’s no indication — yet — that they will. But, after a 12-hour, non-productive talking marathon on Wednesday and with a union confab slated for Monday, the “strike, strike, strike” drum beat’s getting louder.
And, for what? Well, for $180 a month. The sticking point appears to be how much each teacher will pay for health insurance. The difference between what the union says it’s willing to pay and the amount the district wants the union to pay is less than $200.
The Rockford Register Star’s education writer Cathy Bayer coupled some excellent charts with her March 7 story about the insurance deadlock. The most telling shows the current rates, the union’s proposed monthly rates and the district’s proposed rates. To keep it simple, I’ll just deal with the most expensive “teacher-plus-family” rates, the PPO1. The chart includes other kinds, and they’re all cheaper.
Currently, a teacher pays $89 a month. The union says no increase for year one of the contract and is willing to go up to $111 a month in year two. The union doesn’t offer a number for year three. The district says no increase in year one, go to $178 in year two, and go to $269 in year three.
So from the current $89 a month to the highest rate in year three, a teacher would see health insurance costs increase by $180 a month.
Any increase means less cash in one’s pocket. Every working man and woman knows that these days. Escalating insurance costs in private business have taken their tolls on take-home pay for years. And, since few in the private sector have had pay increases in four years, those unceasing insurance increases mean a lot less take-home pay in private pockets.
REA teachers would continue to get their base pay increases and additional pay increases for time-in-grade and additional education. Although increased health insurance costs would nick away at some of those wage increases, it’s not going to put teachers in the hole.
As a taxpayer in the Rockford School District, as someone who believes teaching is God’s work, as the neighbor and friendly acquaintance of a whole bunch of teachers, I just can’t see striking for $180 a month.
In years past, I would have encouraged the school district to cave and avoid a strike because education was more important than $180. This time, no. I can’t afford to pay for 96 percent of the total cost of teachers’ health insurance anymore.
If the REA can’t understand that, then the district has no choice. Take on the strike.