Tuesday, December 12, 2006

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

How much we pay for our insurance.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Proposal 5 letter to the Holland School Board

Dear School Board Members,

This fall we have an opportunity ensure that the students of Holland Public Schools are provided with funding levels that guarantee a quality education. Proposal 5 is an education ballot initiative that requires the state to provide annual funding increases at the rate of inflation to Holland Public Schools. Voting yes on this proposal means the resources needed to teach and the resources students need to learn will be available. You can’t afford to let this opportunity to properly fund education pass by. The children of Holland Public Schools deserve a properly funded education.

Again this year, as in many recent years, HPS is choosing to avert a funding crisis by cutting programs, freezing budgets, and maximizing class sizes. Now we have an opportunity to solve our recurrent funding problem. In recent conversations with central office staff, reservations were expressed about what might happen if the foundation grant is reduced after the November election. Passage of Proposal 5 will not allow legislators to play games with funding levels and shirk their responsibility to the children of Holland.

According to the financial data from district’s Three-Year Financial Plan dated May 16, 2006, Proposal 5 will increase HPS revenues and decrease required expenditures. For the 2007-08 school year, revenues, based on student enrollment, will increase by approximately $356,000 over district projections, and state required expenditures will decrease by approximately $790,000 less than district projections. Even greater revenue additions and expenditure savings will be realized each following year. These figures do not account for the declining enrollment averaging provision of Proposal 5, which will increase revenues additionally.

State law allows school boards to discuss the support of statewide ballot proposals at open meetings as well as adopt resolutions supporting such proposals. School boards across the state have publicly supported a “yes” vote on Proposal 5. Jenison, East Grand Rapids, Rockford, and Kenowa Hills are a few of the local districts that have publicly supported Proposal 5 by passing a board resolution. The Michigan Association of School Boards recently sent Superintendent Garcia a copy of the resolution, asking him and the school board to support it.

Don’t miss this opportunity to guarantee the children of Holland the necessary funding for a quality education. I strongly urge you to publicly support the passage of Proposal 5.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Holland EA 2005-2008 Contract Fact Sheet

Holland EA 2005-2008 Contract Fact Sheet

  • 3 year agreement, retroactive to beginning of 2005-2006 school year.
  • Step advancements each year
  • Salary increases: 05-06 = 0.5%; 06-07 = 1%; 07-08 = 0.5% with possible increases based on state revenue and student enrollment that year.
  • Insurance: MESSA Choices II PPO with a $10/20 mandatory generic drug card. Teachers pay $40/month towards the premium in 06-07 and $60/month beginning July 2007.
  • Up to 12 hours of professional development can now be mandatory after the school day (from 4-7 p.m.). Previously, all PD was done during the teacher’s work day.
  • Changes in start and end times for students and teachers were negotiated as a result of the district restructuring for the 06-07 school year. The district had initially refused to negotiate this issue with the HEA.
  • Rollbacks in pay for veteran teachers who mentor probationary teachers.
  • Rollbacks in overload pay for teachers who have class sizes beyond the contractual limits. (50% of the previous amounts)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

News Release - Holland Teachers Ratify 3 Year Agreement

News Release

August 7, 2006

Subject: Holland Teachers Ratify 3 Year Agreement

Contact: Charles Bullard 616-494-2260

At a general membership meeting held this evening, the Holland Teachers voted to ratify a 3 year Agreement with the Holland Public Schools. The agreement is retroactive to the beginning of the 2005-2006 school year and will continue through the 2007-2008 school year.

After over a year of negotiations with the district making no movement towards reaching a settlement, the parties entered into two lengthy bargaining sessions on July 26 and 27. This resulted in a tentative agreement on all of the remaining outstanding issues. “After 14 months of not moving on their insurance position, the district finally agreed to compromise,” commented HEA president Charles Bullard. “As their financial situation, based on their 3 year projections kept getting better and better, I believe it was hard for them to continue to justify their position on salary and insurance.”

The board had recently petitioned for fact finding with a proposal that would have only guaranteed .5% of salary improvements over a 3 year period and a continuation of their illegally imposed health insurance plan. This new agreement guarantees step advancements, salary improvements each year, and a far superior comprehensive MESSA health plan that will actually cost less than the insurance plan they had imposed for the 2006-2007 school year.

The illegally imposed plan that was forced on the majority of the insured HEA members saw a first year rate increase of almost 12%. The MESSA rate increase for this year came in a 7.41%. “Obviously MESSA’s large pool rating made a difference when it comes to the stability of health costs for Holland Teachers,” commented Jon Toppen, HEA Chief Negotiator.

“Deep wounds have been made as a result of the negotiating agenda pursued by the district during this round of bargaining,” said Bullard. “Things have got to change,” he added. In the category of Basic Instructional Expenditures, the Holland teachers rank 20th out of the 23 districts statewide that are comparable in size. The Total Administrative Expenditures for Holland rank 4th out of 23 for those same comparable districts.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Summer 2006 Did you know #3?

Holland Public Fast Facts #3
Summer 2006

Tracking the Board’s History of Financial Lies

• In 1992, the Board’s 3 Year Financial Forecast predicted a depletion in savings of $850,715 through the 1994/1995 school year. In reality, their savings grew by $1,192,294.
o That’s an error of $2,043,009

• In 1994, the Board’s 3 Year Financial Forecast predicted a total 3-year surplus of $2,473,835. In reality, that 3-year surplus was $4,981,562.
o That’s another “error” (?) of $2,507,727

• In 1997, the Board’s 3 Year Financial Forecast predicted the district would be $2,342,535 in the hole by the end of the third year. In reality, the district had a fund balance of $3,618,209.
o That’s an “error” (mistake?) of $5,960,744!!!!!!

• In 2000, the Board’s 3 Year Financial Forecast predicted the district would be $144,489 in the hole by the end of the third year. In reality, the district had a fund balance of $1,789,408.
o That’s an (intentional?) “error” of $1,933,897

• In 2006 the Board’s 3 year Financial Forecast predicts the district’s surplus will be reduced by $1,155,081. In reality the size of this deception won’t be known until November 2008.
o The amount will once again prove that the Board has no credibility when it comes to forecasting their budget.

When does an error that goes uncorrected
really become intentional deceit?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Summer 2006 Did you know #2?

Holland Public Fast Facts #2
Summer 2006

Did you know?

o The school board, Superintendent Frank Garcia, and a few business leaders are holding the entire community of Holland hostage to their divisive agenda?
o According to the Grand Rapids Press, Garcia bounced settling a fair contract with the teachers off “a few business leaders” who said “Don’t you dare think of backing away.”
o Superintendent Garcia also admitted that he “put community through hell the last few months.”
o Garcia also says the community “would not appreciate” the schools settling a fair contract with the teachers.

Is Superintendent Garcia speaking for you?

If not, give him a call (494-2005) and tell him to STOP THIS NONSENSE.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Summer 2006 Did you know?

Did you know?

Holland Public Schools is now forecasting $2 million more dollars in revenue throughout the next 2 years compared to the forecast used to justify their illegal imposition on the teachers back in November?

The Holland Board of Education's current insurance proposal and that of the teacher's differ in cost by less than $400,000 for a 2 year agreement.

Holland Public Schools is also planning on hiring 10 less teachers for next school year than what was forecast back in November.

The Board of Education now has NO EXCUSE to not have a contract settlement with its teachers.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Holland Sentinel Letter to the Editor

HPS is guilty of incompetence

To the Editor:

At last week's bargaining session between the Holland Education Association and the board of education, the district's business manager, Bob Fein, admitted that he had made a "calculation error" in the district's proposed revenue over the next three years to the tune of $6.3 million. How convenient for the board that this error went undiscovered for over three months, and was remarkably found the very day the two sides met to attempt to negotiate a contract. Is it not the responsibility of the school board, in particular Treasurer Kevin Clark, to oversee the financial issues of this district? Where were they while this $6.3 million error hovered beneath their noses?

Superintendent Frank Garcia has said that this is not "mismanagement" but rather a simple error in the calculation of projected income. Regardless, a $6.3 million error on a budget that is used to plan for the future went undiscovered for over three months. If nothing else, this is a clear demonstration of the administration's and the board's gross negligence and total incompetence to conduct the business of the school district.

It is long past time for the district to give up its "shell game" and stop hiding the district's true financial condition and it is long past time for the board to sit down with the HEA to settle a fair and equitable contract.

Greg VanPortfleet,

West Olive

Monday, May 15, 2006

Response to Michael Jahr

Last Sunday the Sentinel printed a column by Michael Jahr, a paid spokesman for the Mackinac Center, an anti-public school think tank. Mr. Jahr’s defense of the Holland school board’s divisive and morale-destroying action to impose its choice of health care plans on district employees would be laughable, if it was not so tragic.

This is the same Mackinac Center that released a study of school employee health benefits one year ago claiming benefit costs had “risen wildly.” In fact, the study showed that spending on wages and benefits for school employees across the nation grew 37 percent from 1992 to 2002, while only growing 27 percent in Michigan. Pay raises for Michigan teachers were about half of what teachers received nationally over the same period - 18 percent in Michigan versus 34 percent nationally.

Once it was pointed out that the Mackinac Center’s study proved that Michigan school employees were paying for increases in their health insurance by sacrificing salary, the center quickly pulled the study from its Web site, and it has not been returned.

Mr. Jahr and the Mackinac Center are clearly more interested in propaganda than facts. MESSA is a not-for-profit membership organization that serves about 50 percent of the Michigan educational insurance market. It’s efficient and, according to a study commissioned by Republican leaders in the state Senate last year, “very well run.”

The authors of the study, the Hay Group, a West-Virginia actuarial firm, also wrote that MESSA’s pools “have already captured most of the savings that are available solely on the basis of size and bargaining power.”

In regard to unmanageable “double digit increases in health insurance costs,” here, too, Mr. Jahr and the Mackinac Center fail to tell the truth. MESSA’s rate increase for the 2006-2007 school year in Kent and Ottawa counties is only 7.41 percent. In Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana and Lake it is even smaller at 1.06 percent. Statewide, MESSA’s composite increase is under five percent.

MESSA is successful because it provides quality products at competitive rates. MESSA helps school employees stay healthy and on the job. Having MESSA helps school districts attract and retain top quality staffs. In the first month after losing MESSA, Holland school employees lodged more than 110 complaints with Holland Education Association leadership over the new health plan inflicted on them by the board. One family even qualifies for a state assistance program because the new plan leaves them high and dry on coverage for their young son’s condition.

This is vision and leadership on the part of the Holland school board?

We are in the midst of an alarming trend of eroding investment in our public schools. As the Mackinac Center study showed last year, our school employees are falling behind. If that trend continues, our efforts to boost student achievement, toughen curriculums, and increase the state college graduation rate are doomed.

Teachers are the most important and effective investment we can make as we work to boost achievement. If the Holland school board insists on continuing down its dangerous path, it will succeed only in driving young teachers out of its classrooms and into new careers where they can make more money and be treated with respect. If the Mackinac Center and its supporters win, every child, every parent and every family will lose.

Jon Toppen
HEA Chief Negotiator

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Vote of NO Confidence Ad

On Friday, November 11, 2005, the Holland Teachers unanimously voted in support of the following motion...

See the add here.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Spring Activities

The contract contains a letter of agreement regarding spring activities. It states that the District can substitute one after school activity in place of a staff meeting. The letter also states that the District must notify teachers of these dates by March 1. The District failed to meet the March 1 deadline and therefore, all spring activities that occur outside of the teacher work day are voluntary.

Since our 2002/03 contract, Tulip Time participation has been voluntary.

The contract states:

Tulip Time: Teachers attending Tulip Time activities may leave work without loss of pay or deduction from sick leave by signing out of the building in the principal’s office. It is understood that this release is for the purpose of attending Tulip TIme activities for the remainder of the school day and is not to be used for other purposes. Those not attending shall work in their buildings.

For the half days of Tulip Time, choose to do what is best for you. Choose to march, sign out and attend the activities, or stay in your room and work.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bargaining Update

Last night the HEA bargaining team met with the Board’s team and the state mediator for apx. 45 minutes at a full table session.

The Board gave the HEA a new proposal. When asked for the cost of the proposal the Board’s team admittedly did not know the cost and were not able to provide it.

According to the mediator, the board acknowledges substantial savings for the next two years but they are not interested in earmarking a portion of it in order to settle a fair contract with their teachers.

The Board also proposed major changes to the traditional school day and year. They indicated that if the HEA doesn’t agree with these substantial changes in your working conditions by June, the Board may impose these changes prior to the newly elected school board members taking over in July.

It is very clear that the Board’s team cares very little about reaching any agreements with the HEA and intends to continue to impose their will with the expectation that we will do nothing about it.

Two more bargaining dates are set for May 16 and June 27.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Teachers Picket Board Meeting

On Monday, March 20, 125 Holland teachers picketed the school board meeting. Click here to read the Grand Rapids Press article.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Imposed Insurance Doesn't Cost $1085

On March 1 the bargaining team sent an e-mail to Frank and Carol. In it, we asked which paycheck we could expect our money for the difference between their cheap insurance plans and the illegally imposed $1,085 cap.
You need to know that prior to sending this email, this savings was dangled in front of the members of your bargaining team as a "carrot." The district actually bargained with it as though it was "new money they had found to settle our contract." No doubt, they'll be trying to do this with each of you as well, hence this update.
So far as we can tell, this dishonest "spin" of the facts must have been the source of Board member Gavette's "hopefulness" he expressed at the February 20 board meeting.
It is the HEA’s position that the money saved on insurance premiums can’t be used as an incentive to convince your bargaining team that the Board has changed their position or is serious about settling a fair contract.
Frank responded to my request last Wednesday, and stated, “Carol is out of town until Monday. I will make sure and discuss this with her upon her return.” He emailed again on Thursday saying that he spoke with Carol and “we both agreed to refer your email to Barb Ruga for a response.”
Barb emailed later that day. A portion of that email: “The Board team absolutely agrees that, absent any other agreement with the HEA, the difference should be paid to HEA members who elected one of the BCBS plans.”
Carol and Barb are now determining how the difference should be paid each month. The difference between the HRA and the $1,085 board imposed cap is $90.43, and the difference between the HSA and the $1,085 board imposed cap is $239.37. Your team will notify you when we have additional information.
Please don’t be fooled by these monthly payments. The Board never told you about the savings above and beyond what their stated needs have been for months. They didn’t tell you when you had to choose what was best for your family, and the payments will only last until the premiums increase or until the Board unilaterally changes the policies.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Member Training Dates

Membership meetings are scheduled at various buildings throughout the district. You are invited to attend any or all of the meetings, but please plan to attend at least one.

Your bargaining team will share information about bargaining, our new insurance, the board imposed insurance cap, and MESSA. You will also have an opportunity for questions.

All meetings will begin at 4 o'clock and last for approximately one hour. The meeting schedule is:

Thursday, February 23, at Harrington

Monday, February 27, at Longfellow

Thursday, March 2, at WMS

Monday, March 6, at HHS

Thursday, March 9, at EMS

On the day of the meeting, please expect a reminder along with the room location for that day's meeting.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

HEA Pitches New Idea to Board

February 1, 2006

HEA Negotiating Team Pitches New Idea To Board With Guaranteed Cost Containment on the Issue of Health Care

As reported earlier, your negotiating team met last Wednesday with Barb Ruga, Carol Minnaar, and Kevin Clark. As a result of that meeting, we set another date for January 31 to reconvene and further discuss an idea that your HEA team brought through an informal discussion with Carol and Barb. As of December, we were informed that the board’s team from this point forward would consist of Kevin, Carol, and Barb.

We put together a package idea that contained little (maybe none) salary gains over this year and next, and also guaranteed cost containment towards the board’s portion of our insurance premiums. In fact, in 06-07, they would have had to pay no more than $300,000 LESS than what the Super Care 1 costs are for our bargaining unit this year. Our idea contained the MESSA PPO (Choices II) plan we have had as our tabled position for several months now.

Though this idea was a huge compromise from our tabled position, we were hoping the board would see to it that a compromise on their position as well would be in the best interest of both parties at this point in time when they are wanting to focus on restructuring the district and dealing with the added controversies this will bring.

Our idea, coupled with the upcoming selection of what appears to be the board’s favored “Orange Plan,” and the savings they are claiming it will generate, would have put the district in the business of saving money next year and every year after.

We can’t give you hard numbers on this savings because the board seems to have abandoned its prior strategy of updating and mass producing “3 Year Projections” to justify its bargaining position. Since we incorporated the figures of their “3 Year Projection” into our more recent tabled proposals, asking that the board pay us any differences between those projected figures and what ended up being the actual truth, we haven’t seen any more of these updated spreadsheets.

No mention of utilizing the estimated $2.5 million dollars in additional savings that the “Orange Plan” generates annually, and is non-accounted for in their most recent “3 Year Projection,” has been brought to your HEA team during negotiations. They were cranking out new and updated versions of these things on a daily basis just a few months ago. You may recall that it was this “3 Year Plan” that was repeatedly used to justify the board’s need to illegally impose on us the health plans we are soon to receive.

Evidently, the pay that will not be given to 20 less teachers, as speculated in several of the CAC restructuring options, has 0% earmarked for us.

Tuesday, the board/Kevin did counter our idea with an informal idea of his own that was, in ways, worse than their “Final Economic Proposal” from October 26. In the most basic terms it was a restatement of their imposition. Your team rejected this idea, but put our thinking caps back on for another go at it.

We worked hard as a team trying to find another option to consider and we did. We pitched an informal idea that meant us accepting their cost containment needs for this year (as contained in Kevin’s informal counter given just prior). In fact, it might have exceeded them. We thought that we could lay negotiations to rest, team together to work through the upcoming restructuring decisions, take a deep breath, let the dust settle, and move on to the negotiations for next year’s contract with a clearer head and more factual knowledge of the decisions yet to come.

Kevin rejected this idea too. Or at least we assume it was Kevin, since the rejection came from “the Board.” Now it appears that Mr. Clark will soon abandon his duties and responsibilities with the district entirely, and leave these and other unsolved problems for someone else to clean up.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Who's Guilty of Misinformation

District officials have been quoted as saying the HEA has engaged in a “Misinformation Campaign” throughout the contract negotiations. We are asking you to consider these facts and to read the attached 4 page letter addressed from Carol Minnaar to John Burdick of the Holland Sentinel.

Fact #1: In a December 19, article in the Sentinel, Kevin Clark says “the health care piece is somewhat behind us,” in reference to negotiations. The law requires the board to negotiate all mandatory subjects of bargaining with the HEA, regardless of what declarations they make at their public meetings.

Fact #2: In a January 22, article of the GR Press, Minnaar said your HEA negotiations team agreed to only two bargaining sessions in 2.5 months. Here are the dates we’ve negotiated since school began: August 15, 16, September 6, 13, 28, October 10, 26, 27, November 2, 9, December 12, 14, January 25, 31. Can you find a 2.5 month period that only has 2 bargaining sessions?

Fact #3: The board’s illegally imposed insurance plans ensure that you and your families are the worst protected teachers in the area when it comes to health care. This is coupled with the board’s current bargaining position of half steps for this year and next and no pay raise for either year as well. Now they want to hurry up and start talking about Article 7 rollbacks in class size language, working day definitions, etc. Can you find any of this in Carol’s “spin” to Mr. Burdick?

Fact #4: The real reason the district wants these new health plans is clearly revealed on page 2 of this letter. Carol indicates that “the Board” will “have access to general claims information.” This means a probationary teacher’s ongoing high health care costs associated with a child’s birth complications, can and will be available. You curb plan costs by curbing benefit payoffs, it’s not rocket science.

Carol shows her true colors and the board’s true colors in the post-signature commentary relative to our “after school party” and the direct sending of proposals to the press.

Carol Minnaar's Letter


January 23, 2006

Mr. John Burdick
The Holland Sentinel

Dear John,

Thank you for giving me the time to provide you and your editor with a comprehensive description of the two Blue Cross plans that will take effect March 1 concerning the HEA, and to answer the three questions posed to me in your January 20 email.

First, the Blue Cross plans are the identical plans in which all eligible District administrators and non-union support staff participate. For example, the Superintendent and I are covered by these very plans.

I know that change is very hard, and when it comes to changes in insurance benefits, uncertainty and anxiety are always higher with public school employees who, for so long, have had the opportunity to receive fully paid insurance benefits with relatively lower drug copays and related costs than most other employee groups. Last year, Holland Public Schools employees only had a $2 drug copay. Now it is a $5/$10 drug card. I can understand why employees are reluctant make such changes in coverage.

As one of the few employees at Holland Public Schools who has worked in both the private and public sector, I can tell you from personal experience that the MESSA insurance benefits enjoyed by Michigan public school employees are great benefits. However, the Holland Board can no longer afford the cost of that coverage.

The District’s insurance consultants, Advantage Benefits Group, tell us that the two plans we are offering are better than the coverage that 90% or more of employees in Western Michigan receive in their workplaces now. The District is very pleased to have put together two plan options that offer quality benefits and yet are affordable for the District with no monthly cost to the employees.

Second, employees will be able to choose which plan is best suited for them and their families. The District is offering six (6) informational meetings for employees and their spouses to give out important information to help them make this choice. Representatives of the District’s insurance consultants and third party administrator will
be there to provide information about the plan benefits, and to answer employee questions.

Employees will learn that the health components of these plans include either (1) a Community Blue PPO plan with a Healthcare Reimbursement Arrangement or (2) the new Blue Cross Blue Shield Flexible Blue Plan #2. These are the same plans that the District has been proposing to the HEA. There is no monthly cost to employees for either of these plans, as the monthly premium cost does not exceed $1085.00 this school year.

The BCBS PPO Plan with HRA-Option 1

If employees have a lot of medical expenses, they may feel more comfortable with this plan, which I call the HRA plan. Under this PPO plan, there is a high deductible, but the district is fully paying for the deductible through a reimbursement process to be administered by the TPA. The TPA is ASR, a large and experienced third party administrator that handles a number of large employers in Kent and Ottawa Counties, including the Ottawa ISD.

Under this plan, there is a $10/$40 drug card. The cost in prescription drugs will vary from employee to employee and will depend upon the number of monthly prescription drugs and whether the drug is a generic or brand name drug. I cannot predict how this change will affect HEA staff because the District does not have access to claims data for its employees. As you probably know, MESSA does not release claims data and so the District could not design a plan with knowledge about actual claims history for the HEA. With the Board being the policyholder, the Board’s ability to design benefit coverage will improve as it will have access to general claims information. As before, individual claims history is protected by privacy laws.

The Flexible Blue Plan 2 – Option 2

The Flexible Blue Plan is a health savings account (“HSA”) also with a high deductible. However, as the Board’s bargaining team has explained in writing and verbally to the HEA bargaining team, the District is fully paying for the deductible for the 10 months they will be covered this year. Next year the deductible will be paid for the entire year.

Each month, the District will deposit 1/12th of the deductible amount into an HSA account that is owned by the employee. The HSA may also be spent on health-related expenses such as contact lens solution, cough syrup, lasik eye surgery and the like (all qualified expenses are listed in IRS Publication 502.) If the HSA grows over time, the employee at retirement may use the account for post-retirement medical expenses, such as paying for monthly premiums for the insurance provided to retired Michigan Public School Employees through the MPSERS system. The money does not revert back to the District at any time.

The HSA covers prescription drugs just like all other medical expenses. Once the deductible is spent, the plan covers eligible expenses on an 80/20 basis if the provider is in the Blue Cross network, up to an annual maximum. Like most insurance plans, provided that the employee stays within the network and does not incur costs beyond
what is reasonable and customary, the out of pocket cost each year should not exceed the annual amount of the coinsurance. The annual coinsurance amount is $2000.00 per family or 2 person, or $1000.00 per single person.

Comparison to MESSA Plans

Under the current MESSA Super Care 1 plan, the drug card was a $5/$10 drug card, however, the cost to the employee for that plan was $195.00 in January and February of 2006, the amount by which the monthly cost of Super Care 1 exceeded the $1085.00 the Board can afford this school year.

Under the MESSA Choices II plan, a PPO plan insured by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan, the drug card was also $5/$10, and the cost to the employee was $50.63 per month. With the Blue Cross plans; there is no monthly premium cost to the employee.

As you probably know, the HEA has offered to move all employees to the MESSA Choices II plan, a PPO plan insured by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan. I attached a comparison of the plans we prepared and gave to Mr. Craig Culver, the MEA Uniserv Director assigned to the HEA, at our recent negotiations session.

In our opinion, the Blue Cross plans are not “significantly inferior” to what the teachers had before. We certainly would not offer “significantly inferior” plans to our District administrators or non-union support staff. The Superintendent and I have no desire to participate in such “significantly inferior” plans.

Can the Board still offer MESSA as an option?

From the beginning of negotiations last spring, in light of the District’s fiscal condition and three years of flat State funding while “legacy” and energy costs escalated, the Board had communicated the need to achieve cost containment on insurance costs by 2006. Until very recently the Board consistently offered either the MESSA plans, at a monthly cost to employees, or, at no monthly cost to employees, the two high quality Blue Cross
plans that I have described.

In fact, as recently as October 26, the Board made a Final Offer to the HEA. In the Final Offer, the Board proposed two options. Option A allowed the HEA to choose either MESSA Super Care 1 or Choices II, provided the employees paid the difference between $1085.00 and the actual cost for those plans. Option B proposed the two Blue Cross plans going into effect on March 1. The HEA rejected both options.

As of the last bargaining session on December 14, the HEA was still proposing a fully paid Choices II plan at a monthly cost that exceeds $1085.00. Another bargaining session is scheduled for January 25.

I hope that this information responds to your questions. Please feel free to call me at any time to clarify this situation, or to answer any questions. Thank you for your newspaper’s continuing interest in the fiscal solvency of the Holland Public Schools.


Carol Minnaar
Director, Human Resources
Holland Public Schools

The HEA recently scheduled an after school party for its members. During that party, the HEA had forms available inviting employees to file claims against the District challenging the payroll deductions of these monthly costs. With the Blue Cross plans; there are no monthly deductions from an employee’s payroll. I am attaching the Board’s October 26, 27 and subsequent proposals and counterproposals. Let me know if you would like copies of the HEA’s proposals covering the same time period.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Unanswered Questions re: Insurance

Do these plans have a layoff benefit?

If I go on LTD, will you continue to pay for and cover my insurance premium for 2 years?

Will you continue my benefits in the event of a school closure?

Will you provide me with a personal advocate like Grace Romzick, or will it just be an agent from your company?

Does your office have a medical doctor-director and a staff of RN’s to check special cases?

Will 19-25 year old kids be covered at no extra cost?

Will it cover kids who are college students and beyond age 25 at no extra cost?

How do these plans cover chiropractic visits?

Can I still get my prescriptions filled through mail order at only $8.00 per year?

Will we still have the 50 visit allowance covered by the plans for Psychologists?

Do the prescription plans have a PD-MAC Rider? How much could a name brand prescription cost me if it has this?

Do these plans cover home health care?

Do you cover foreign exchange students?

Who can authorize changes to the plan? Does the employer have any unilateral change authority? Can you prove this to me in writing?

Will the plan language specifically state that “no changes can be made to this plan without the agreement of the parties through the collective bargaining process?”

Since the district is already unilaterally doing this to us now, isn’t it reasonable that they intend to do it again in the future?

Isn’t it true that in order to contain costs, even with your plans, you have to cut benefits that individuals actually use or you have no actual savings?

Can you actually guarantee the district savings over time compared to MESSA without modifying these plans at all or making me pay more each month for the premiums? (if yes: “Are you willing to guarantee us a plan that will always be comparable MESSA for the next 10 years and also always cost less, no matter how sick our employees might get from year to year?”)

How did you happen to put together 2 plans, after the fact, that cost exactly the amount of money the district had in their insurance proposal prior to bringing these plans to the table? Are these really honest prices?

Do you have copies or examples of how medical claims data for us can be formatted and reviewed by the district in order to decide which benefits they might want to cut to save money at a later time?

Could my name be on any of these documents? The amount of health care costs I incurred? Could the names of medications we are taking be accessed by the district? Could the names of Physicians or the clinics we seek treatment from be on any of these documents?

This is a pretty small town, if there is a $500,000 bill for an premature birth from one of our probationary teachers, won’t it be pretty easy to put 2 and 2 together?

Why does the district insist they be the policyholder? What power do they obtain be declaring themselves such?

Which employee for the district is going to be responsible for receiving, viewing, etc. Protected Health Information? Is the district going to make sure that, whoever this person is, they have a logging mechanism to track this person’s viewing of individual PHI?

How often will those logs be audited?

How are complaints handled if we have complaints about our own PHI being accessed or used by those within and from outside the system?

Does your reporting system have web access? (if yes: Are your firewalls to protect from outsiders accessing my PHI fail-safe?)

Isn’t it true that one of the main reasons the board and administration like your plans compared to MESSA is the ability to access claims information and then remove the benefit levels that are costing too much?

How many different teachers groups does your agency currently cover?

Can you provide a 10 year rate increase and plan coverage history from any of your clients that have been with you that long?
If no, for how long of a time could you provide this data?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Next week make sure to attend at least one of the insurance meetings. You will want to gather as much information as possible about you and your family’s insurance benefits under the district’s new consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs). But I doubt they’ll tell you everything about your new plan.

At the meeting I doubt they’ll tell you that individuals with more comprehensive health insurance (i.e. Super Care/Choices II) are more satisfied with their health plan than individuals in high deductible health plans (HDHPs).

At the meeting I doubt they’ll tell you that individuals with CDHPs and HDHPs are significantly more likely to spend a large share of their income on out-of -pocket health care expenses than those in comprehensive health plans.

At the meeting I doubt they’ll tell you that individuals with CDHPs and HDHPs are significantly more likely to avoid, skip, or delay health care because of costs than are those with more comprehensive health insurance, with problems particularly pronounced among those with health problems or incomes under $50,000.

At the meeting I doubt they’ll tell you that there is evidence that people in CDHPs and HDHPs are more likely to go without care.

All of this information came from a study published in December 2005, by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Check it out yourself: http://www.cmwf.org/usr_doc/fronstin_consumerism_survey.pdf

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Don’t be fooled by Ms. Minnaar’s statements Monday night (January 16, 2006) about scheduling bargaining dates, insurance, or anything else. At our last bargaining session, both parties agreed that the CAC decisions and recommendations could have vast financial ramifications. It was also agreed that bargaining sessions would not be as productive as they might be if major changes to the district were soon to be announced. And that is what apparently is happening Thursday afternoon.

Your bargaining team determined long ago that each team member’s contribution is vital, and that we would not schedule bargaining sessions when all members could not be present. Many of their proposed dates were during our holiday break. Team members were out of town to be with their families or were serving jury duty during the holidays. Other dates proposed by the board’s attorney required team members to miss school. As a team, we long ago told the board’s bargaining team that missing school was to be avoided. We believe in what we do and don’t want to miss school to bargain unless we are close to a possible settlement. Obviously, we’re not close to a possible settlement - especially since recent communication from the board’s attorney stated that the board has not changed it’s proposal.

Be careful about what you believe with respect to statements from Washington. Trusted principals have voiced displeasure with the benefit plan that was forced on them. Their experience with this plan is far different than Ms. Minnaar’s characterization of it.

Remember, as another West Michigan school district’s board member stated about our superintendent in the Grand Rapids Press on October 4, 2005, “Holland has someone who is engaged in open warfare with his employees.” Obviously, this statement can be expanded to include the board and other Washington administrators. Their goal is to take as much as they can from us.

The board illegally imposed their will on us, and recent actions taken by us are showing the board that we are united and unhappy with the next phase of the “Ruga Plan” to destroy our district.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

At Monday night’s board meeting (January 16, 2006), the board again imposed it’s will on us. They again decided what is best for you and your family.

Last November, the board imposed it’s will and limited their monthly insurance contribution. This was after more than six months of negotiating; six months of the HEA continually conceding our proposal, and six months of the board NOT MOVING AT ALL.

Their November imposition wasn’t good enough. Yes, it did cap their costs, and it did meet their stated financial needs. The board’s insurance costs are limited in January (check your Jan. 20 paycheck). Their costs will be the same in February, and their costs will be the same in March, even though the board is demanding a change in our coverage. Their stated reasons for the November imposition were met in November. Monday night’s imposition doesn’t save the district money - it only hurts us by eroding our and our families’ benefit levels. The district won’t allow us to keep the insurance we want, even though their forced change doesn’t save the district. Be certain, that at no time did the district offer to continue the Jan./Feb. insurance imposition past February. They could continue the current arrangement unilaterally right now.

This action shows the callousness that exists. The board is shoving their choice down our throats. It’s not to save money - they guaranteed that in November. What is guaranteed now is that we will have the worst teachers' benefit package in Ottawa County.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

If you missed Monday night’s board meeting (January 16, 2006), you missed some great testimonials about the wonderful things your colleagues are doing everyday to make Holland Public Schools a tremendous place for students. Tammie Kamps, Lisa Voss, Cinda Yonker, Ken Ogle, Nancy Wessels, Jill Wallaker, and Patti Arndt shared personal stories about the wonderful things the professionals they work with do everyday. Patti Dixon also shared some valid concerns about insurance and administrative salaries. Thank you all for being willing to speak out on behalf of your peers and the issues that are important to us and our families. The board’s response was indifference. Some appeared to not be listening, and none offered a bit of thanks or appreciation.

The positive mood of the teachers’ sharing was soured by an attack on teachers by the wife of one of the board members. She accused teachers of threatening and intimidating her and her children. In addition, she claimed that parents are afraid to speak about current bargaining issues because teachers will exact revenge upon their children in the classroom. She used the board’s pulpit to turn, directly face, and insult the teachers in attendance and those who weren’t. She continually used “we,” when referring to the board’s actions and decisions as if she is on the board and speaks on their behalf.

At the end of the public comments section of the meeting, the board president asked other members of the board if there was need for clarification. NO board member spoke. NO board member denounced the attack upon the teachers. NO board member defended the teachers, AND NO board member attempted to distance themselves from the board’s new “spokesperson.” Apparently, the board condones these feelings and attitude. Check the MAC-TV schedule for a rebroadcast of Monday night’s meeting to see the board’s new “spokesperson” in action. If you don’t have access to MAC-TV, please contact Maria Yoder to borrow a video tape copy of the meeting.

HEA members are the heart and soul of Holland Public Schools. As professionals, WE deserve to be treated with respect at our work sites and at the bargaining table. We rely on your continued support.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bargaining Update

On December 14, your team met with the same three members of the board’s team, attorney Barb Ruga, Carol Minnaar, and Kevin Clark. The board rejected our December 12 proposal and the Board’s position did not change from their prior proposals.
The team received ANOTHER three year financial plan from the board. Once again their assumptions have changed, and they admit they will continue to change, especially when the board actually begins to make some responsible management decisions at some, yet undetermined, date in the future.
This week the board’s attorney lectured us on how much she cares and worries about OUR district. The insinuation was that somehow SHE has more concern about the future and the welfare of the district than WE do. Even though her high fees continue to drain unneeded resources from the district, this must somehow empower her with a greater level of caring and dedication than your bargaining team and the teachers who come to serve the students and families of Holland Public Schools each day.
Future bargaining dates will be determined in January.