NORWALK, Conn. – The Norwalk Federation of Teachers has filed a prohibited practices complaint against the Board of Education.
The BoE has attempted to intimidate the union membership by making inaccurate public comments, NFT President Mary Yordon said in a statement late Tuesday, confirming information received by NancyOnNorwalk that the union has filed a complaint with the State Board of Labor Relations.
This crisis stems from a $6.6 million 2017-18 NPS operating budget shortfall; the city allocated money for the NPS budget based on the assumption that millions of dollars could be saved by switching NPS from a self-insured health benefit policy to CT Partnership 2.0. But the NFT refused, according to the BoE.
Up until now, NFT leadership has not elaborated on its issues with CT Partnership 2.0. Complaints relayed in Yordon’s statement include the possibility that teachers will have to switch doctors. It’s probable that many will have to switch specialists that they rely on, she said, commenting that the NFT is not the BoE’s ATM machine.
Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton, at a recent BoE Finance Committee meeting, estimated that 75 teachers would need to be laid off to make up for the budgetary shortfall, if the NFT did not agree to the insurance switch.
Yordon’s statement was sent to the NFT membership and NoN at 10:20 p.m.:
“The Norwalk Board of Education is in the midst of a budget crisis, exacerbated by foot dragging and lack of planning. The NFT is taking this crisis very seriously and has offered suggestions for solutions. Our new contract is in full force and effect until 2019. We are not obligated to open our contract, but we tried to negotiate an extension in exchange for doing so. The Board refused our proposal, and has informed us that it is not willing to negotiate.
“We proposed a deal very similar to the one struck between the Board and NFT in 2003, when our contract was extended and the insurance was changed to resolve a budget crisis. What we asked for this year was essentially a status quo extension of the contract with raises in line with other towns in the area that have already been negotiated. We didn’t ask for the moon & stars…just certainty for our members and their families. In 2003, the Board negotiated; this Board refused. This Board instead made inaccurate public comments intending to mislead and intimidate the union and its members, prompting us to file a prohibited practice complaint.
“Board members have been repeatedly quoted as saying that our members would not have to give up anything if we change to the new plan. This is simply not true. The proposed plan would cause members to seek new doctors, comply with HEP requirements previously not in place, and experience new limitations and bureaucratic requirements of managed health care protocols. The new network includes about 85% of the same doctors. The doctors missing from the new network are the specialists that people are typically most reluctant to switch, such as pediatricians and mental health care providers. We continue to be willing to negotiate in the best interests of the students and the city. However, to give up a benefit in exchange for nothing simply isn’t logical. We’re not the city’s personal ATM machine.
“Moving to the new plan would save the Board roughly $4,500 per employee. Our members with families would save about $400 per year, and those with individual coverage about $130. Two-person coverage would yield a savings of about $34 per member.
“Their plan appears now to rely on layoffs to reconcile the budget. These layoffs are unnecessary. The subsequent disruption is unnecessary. The resulting class sizes and reduced options will negatively impact the education of students, and disrupt programs and careers. It is not clear why the Board feels so strongly that negotiations are not acceptable. There is a clear need, and a clear precedent. They are choosing layoffs when there are other options. It appears that avoiding negotiations at any cost is the strategy, even at the cost of quality education of our students.”
BoE Chairman Mike Lyons was not available for comment.
Lyons on April 20 instructed district leadership to prepare for “significant layoffs.”
“They demanded a two-year contract extension (to an unheard of 5 years) with raises we can’t afford,” Lyons said on April 20. “And they did it not as a counter to 2.0 (which would save their own members money), but as a blatant attempt to leverage the possible layoff of their own members to force us to capitulate. Which we won’t do.”
The switch to CT Partnership 2.0 would cost NPS $3.15 million less than the existing plan, Hamilton said recently. The BoE could then roll its insurance fund into the $6.6 million budgetary shortfall and address a remaining $800,000 gap without layoffs, he said.
The BoE’s budget request was 10.1 percent higher than the 2016-17 budget; the city funded a 4.5 percent increase, while keeping the average mill rate to a 1.8 percent increase, pending the results of the state budget process.
NFT leadership attended Tuesday’s BoE meeting, where NFT First Vice President Joe Giandurco said to the Board, “To publicly call for layoffs, to attack our leadership, to ignore and belittle our attempts to solve the budget shortfall is wrong.”