Sac City Unified, school unions look to reduce health costs in face of continued budget woes

Sacramento City Unified School District’s Board of Education said Thursday that it still could not meet its minimum-reserve requirements for the next two years as it approved its first interim financial report since having its budget rejected by the county Office of Education for the second time in October.

Before approving the report with a negative certification, four of the district’s five labor unions signed on to a plan to reduce health care costs as the board introduced a timetable that may include layoffs in July as part of the district’s efforts to reach solvency.

Superintendent Jorge Aguilar said the the district and its labor partners would like to begin working with the California Education Coalition for Health Care Reform, a nonprofit group that works with districts to reduce health care costs.

Aguilar said working with CECHCR could result in as much as $16 million in savings without affecting coverage.

Absent from the signing ceremony was the Sacramento City Teachers Association, which represents district faculty and has repeatedly accused the district of financial mismanagement and administrative excess.

Richard Owen, the executive director of United Professional Educators, a labor union that represents school administrators, said he believed collective health care action could protect educational programs while also taking care of employees’ needs.

“Let me tell you right now we’re doing this for you,” Owen said, pointing to several Hiram Johnson High School students in the audience. “All of the adults need to step up to the plate, make the necessary shared sacrifices.”

SCTA executive director John Borsos referred to the signing ceremony as a “publicity stunt” meant to redirect attention from the district’s negatively certified first interim report.

Borsos said the teachers’ union had already begun talks with the district over health care savings through CECHCR late last year — well before the district’s budget was first rejected in August — but no plans had been implemented since.

Borsos said the district had not taken any initiative to move forward with CECHCR.

District spokesman Alex Barrios confirmed that there had been prior discussions with SCTA regarding health care savings, although he said the union had stalled the negotiations by not picking a health care plan.

As for the possibility of layoffs, Barrios said they are looking unlikely at this point, especially given the four labor unions’ agreement to move forward on healthcare. However, he said layoffs are on the table if cost-saving measures cannot effectively balance the budget.

Aguilar said the district had already found about $12 million in savings, which combined with possible savings in health care, would put the district well on its way to balancing the budget.

Board President Jessie Ryan said there was still a long way to go before layoffs would even be considered and she remained optimistic that with cooperation from SCTA, the board could achieve solvency without taking drastic measures.

“We are not there yet,” Ryan said. “We are absolutely not there yet.”

In a video statement released Wednesday, Aguilar said he would not be receiving any salary increases until the district’s “budget situation improves.”

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