Updated, 3:45 p.m.: Comment from Bryan Meek; Correction, 2 p.m.: BoE budget increase was 4.5 percent.
NORWALK, Conn. – Hard decisions are lurking if the Norwalk Federation of Teachers doesn’t make the move to a state insurance plan, Board of Education Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek said Wednesday.
Norwalk Public Schools is looking to go ahead with changing the health plan, NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said, although NFT has rejected the proposal.
Meek wanted to discuss the situation further in public, but Hamilton refused, saying that contract negotiations should be held in an executive session.
Voices were raised behind the closed doors, with an angry exchange marking the beginning of about 20 minutes of private conversation. The meeting was then reconvened and swiftly adjourned with any comment on that issue.
Hamilton in mid-April said that about 75 teachers would be laid off if NFT did not switch its health insurance coverage to Connecticut Partnership 2.0. NFT subsequently refused, and BoE Chairman Mike Lyons, who is not on the three-member Committee and was not present Wednesday, told NPS to prepare for a significant reduction in force on July 1.
NPS requested a 10.1 budget increase this year; Mayor Harry Rilling proposed the switch to Connecticut Partnership 2.0 as a way of saving a projected $5 million, and the Common Council eventually voted to approve a budget that allowed NPS a 4.5 percent increase, which was approved by the Board of Estimate and Taxation.
Meek began Wednesday’s budget reconciliation discussion by announcing that the primary purpose of the meeting was to discuss any progress that has been made with the insurance issue.
“The elephant in room is the $6.65 million forecasted shortfall without labor concessions to improved health care plans that in turn save them money and the city money. Without this, this budget doesn’t have votes, I am hearing, in June. Hard decisions will have to be made,” Meek said.
“If we are going to talk about the status of where we are in the health plan negotiations and the move to the state 2.0 health plan that discussion has to take place in executive session because we are in active negotiations with our collective bargaining groups over that move,” Hamilton replied.
“Can we talk about what would happen if none of that happens?” Meek asked.
“I guess you can have any discussion you want but it seems to me a little premature and speculative,” Hamilton said.
The BoE has 50 days to approve its budget, Meek said.
“It is our intention and recommendation to move forward ultimately with an implementation of a change to the health plan but, again, I can’t go into the details on that in an open session,” Hamilton said.
“I would move going into executive session so we can get a little more detail as to why we cannot get some information,” Committee member Erik Anderson said.
“We don’t have a choice, do we?” Committee member Mike Barbis said.
After the meeting, NoN asked Barbis if teacher layoffs are still possible.
“Everything is on the table and I think we’re going to have to see where discussions go,” Barbis said. “Who knows what’s going to happen? Bottom line is this plan, this move, everyone is getting more for their money. There is no rational reason to not move to this plan.”
Asked for a comment, NFT President Mary Yordon said, “We tend to make decisions on a rational basis. We have made this one carefully. We are open to negotiations on this.”
The union will vote on the issue in June, NFT First Vice President Joe Giandurco said.
Last month, after it became public knowledge that NFT had rejected Connecticut Partnership 2.0, Yordon released a statement. An excerpt:
“We made a fair offer to the district regarding the health insurance changes, and they rejected this offer. If the district funded Special Education needs last year by raiding the health insurance fund, and this year funds schools generally by raiding health insurance agreements or layoffs, what will next year bring? Our district deserves better management than this. Our members deserve better than threats and closed negotiations brought to the front page!”
On Thursday, Meek, who had left Wednesday’s meeting immediately after the executive session to make it to another obligation, offered a comment by email.
“The NFT stands to get a better plan and save their membership money,” Meek wrote. “NPS HR is willing to negotiate out of network providers into the 2.0 fold if they are raised by any of our employees. I’m told that DRs are generally very warm to moving, it’s just a formality of some paperwork to get in the network. So the BOE didn’t ask the NFT to give anything. We were asking them to save us money and in turn themselves. They aren’t giving anything up except maybe the pride of a few people who think its their mission to show their membership their worth. It’s going to be a sad day for the city if they choose to continue to drive us over the edge of the cliff.”
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