Education

Sac City Unified restores Health Net for teachers to settle legal dispute

The new superintendent for the Sacramento City Unified School District, José Banda, talks with media July 18 at the Serna Center. Banda and Sacramento City Teachers Association head Nikki Milevsky announced a settlement on health insurance options Tuesday.
The new superintendent for the Sacramento City Unified School District, José Banda, talks with media July 18 at the Serna Center. Banda and Sacramento City Teachers Association head Nikki Milevsky announced a settlement on health insurance options Tuesday. Sacramento Bee file

The Sacramento City Unified School District will immediately restore Health Net for teachers and early retirees after unilaterally eliminating the health plan in a controversial move last fall, the district and Sacramento City Teachers Association announced Tuesday.

The agreement was announced jointly by Superintendent José Banda and SCTA President Nikki Milevsky in a statement to district employees, including about 2,200 teachers who constitute more than half of the district’s 4,000-person workforce. The rollback essentially restores Health Net as an insurance provider, effective immediately. That affects about 1,100 teachers and a smaller number of early retirees who left service before age 65.

The deal came as the district and teachers union were embroiled in a legal fight over the insurance change. SCTA alleged that the district had violated state employment law by not negotiating the change with teachers.

The settlement effectively discards the district’s mandate last fall that teachers choose between Kaiser or one of two new health insurers, Sutter Health Plus and Western Health Advantage HMO. Health Net’s elimination, effective Jan. 1, had been part of a wholesale insurance changeover that was to have saved the district $6 million to $8 million the first year.

Under the change, Sutter Health Plus and Western Health Advantage HMO will continue to provide insurance to employees in other labor groups within the district. Teachers who opted for Kaiser will have the option of returning to Health Net.

Both sides said Health Net is lowering its costs to the district by 1.5 percent compared to 2014. But the changeover also means the district savings could be less than half of what was initially estimated, officials said.

“I value relationships and I think there’s a long history here between the teachers union and the district,” Banda said. “For me it’s an opportunity to move forward with new folks, clearer understandings and authentic cooperation between the two groups. I value that.”

The settlement requires many details to be worked out. It does not, for example, affect retired teachers age 65 and over, who have been among the most vocal group in criticizing the change. The district and SCTA say they intend to seek settlement on behalf of that group.

Barbara Christl spoke on behalf of her husband, Gary Christl, who retired in 1990 after 30 years as a government and history teacher in the district. For 28 of those years, she said, he taught at Sacramento High School. He had a major stroke two years ago, and she was among those frustrated about having to sign him up with a new provider.

“We still don’t have an ID card for him at this point,” Barbara Christl said of her husband, who will be 79 this year. She said he would definitely return to Health Net if the insurer were restored.

“Whoever dreamt this up, I would dearly like to see them in the Third Level of Dante’s Inferno,” she said.

SCTA is temporarily suspending its legal challenge tied to the 65-plus group “to allow the two sides time to work together in support of our retired employees.”

“We’re very happy that the district recognized the importance of honoring the contract,” Milevsky said. “The district and the school board have taken a big step toward repairing our relationship and setting it on a firm foundation.”

Since fall, the legal clock has been ticking on complaints from SCTA that the district had violated state employment law. The group filed an unfair labor practice claim with the state Public Employment Relations Board in October. In December, the SCTA filed an injunction with the board, seeking to force mediation. And a hearing was set for April 7.

Banda said he questioned whether the district ought to “go down the litigation trail and go through the PERB board to get this resolved, or is there an opportunity for us to come together?”

“I think this time around,” Banda added, “I felt they were more engaged and willing to talk about common ground and talk about how we can move this thing forward.”

Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.

  Comments