More Fiction Than Fact In The Teachers Union Almanac?

Teachers Made Several Allegations In Their Reasons To Reject A Wage Freeze. Patch Investigated, And Some Appear To Be Inaccurate.

The teachers union recently , arguing health care expenses are what really need to be fixed. In both an interview with Union President Martha Shoemaker and a press release, many allegations were made about health care and the administration. Patch investigated these allegations and found some of them to be inaccurate.

First Allegation: Waterford needs to rethink its self-insurance model; a standard health care package is better.

Answer: The self-insurance model is far cheaper, and has saved millions of dollars over the past 10 years .

Explanation: Finance Director Rudie Beers and her staff constantly analyze the cost of health care, Beers said. Nearly every year, the town asks Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield to compare Waterford’s current self-insured plan with a standard health care package. Heading into 2011-12, a standard package would cost the town $13.85 million, while the self-insured plan will cost the town $11.68 million, a savings of $2.16 million, according to Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s estimations.

If the town were to go out to bid tomorrow for a standard package, there is a chance a health insurance company would bid low for the first year, Beers said. This is common practice among health insurance companies, she said. However, once a contract is signed, rates rise dramatically and cost the town far more in the long run, she said.

Second Allegation: The cost of health care is so high because the town has a poor system, or is mismanaging the system.

Answer: Incorrect, according to budget documents. Costs have gone up because claims have gone up.

Explanation: For whatever reason, in the past few years, many town employees have filed very expensive claims, First Selectman Dan Steward said. Perhaps it is because the town has an aging population, or it is due to more accidents, but there is no single explanation, Steward said. The bottom line is when both the number and severity of claims go up, health insurance goes up, he said. The town is obligated to pay these costs, he said.

“It is no single person’s fault that health care costs have gone up,” Beers said. “People have gotten sick, and we need to pay for it. That is not the fault of the first selectman, or the school superintendent, or the finance director or the teachers union.”

Looking at budget numbers, Waterford employees had $10.13 million in claims in 2010. In 2009, that number was only $8.65 million, in 2008 it was $7.89 million and in 2007 it was $7.23 million. Before, those numbers were much more flat.

Claims are more expensive now because the cost of health care across the board has gone up, Beers said. That said, the town has had more severe claims more often, she said.

“The cost of health care has gone up because the use has gone up,” Beers said.

Cost could go down from some minor adjustments, such as a wellness program, Superintendent Jerome Belair said. However the only way to have a real impact on costs would be through “labor negotiations,” Steward said.

The union has not been asked for concessions on their health care plan.

Third Allegation: The administration has not given the teachers union all the information, particularly on the health care reserve account.

Answer: “Emphatically not true,” Assistant Superintendent Craig Powers said.

Explanation: All town budget and financial information is public information, including all information on health care costs. For example, Patch acquired all the information about all town health care costs immediately from Beers. Also, an audit is done each year on all town finances, including health insurance, and that audit is made public and advertised via a legal notice. It is available both online and in town hall. Waterford has won several awards for the excellence of these audits.

Along those lines, Belair, Powers and Beers have all said they have answered every single question ever asked by the teachers union. The teachers union submitted a list of 50 questions in January on these issues; Belair, Powers and former superintendent Randall Collins answered all 50 questions.

Beers, meanwhile, has said no teacher has asked her a single question about health insurance (or anything for that matter) the entire fiscal year. The union has said it asks only the administration questions, although Beers said her door is open.

Fourth Allegation: The town has done little to address the health care issue.

Explanation: A gray area, although the town does address this issue daily, according to Beers.

Answer: The teachers union agreed to two furlough days last year. Part of that agreement was the administration would find a way to fix the health care issue.

Since then, the administration created a group to look at reducing health care costs. The group has met only three times in a year.

The teachers union asked this question to the administration earlier in the year. The administration told the union this group was looking into long-term savings, and would not affect this year.

The teachers union has also asked for all union presidents to be allowed to go to these meetings. The meetings are public, are announced weeks ahead of time and are open to all, Powers said. Nobody has ever stopped a union president from attending a meeting, he said. Prohibiting someone from attending a public meeting is also a violation of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act.

Meanwhile, Beers was livid over this explanation. The finance department, a paid group of professionals trained to look at cost savings, looks at this issue daily, Beers said. The group is constantly looking at different ways to save money, she said.

Over the course of the fiscal year, the teachers union has not once asked the finance department what it is doing to save money on health care, Beers said. For it to say the town is doing nothing is just wrong, Beers said.

“I would not say the teachers aren’t doing something; because I don’t know what they do,” she said. “Why would they say we are not doing something, when they don’t know what we do?”

John March 11, 2011 at 12:14 PM
I am disgusted with the attitude of these teachers it’s all about them. Don’t they know that the real unemployment number exceeds 10%. I know it’s hard to make concessions but the time has come for each and every American to make some sacrifices. If we all (and I mean all) take a little less and give a little more we can get out of this mess we are in. Wake up people the government budget is no different than your hold budget you can’t spend what you don’t have.
Tom March 11, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Thank you, Paul, for good reporting. Please teachers: protect the weak! Keep your class sizes down. Keep the programs for the kids. Keep those wonderful teachers; they have families, too!
Waterford Rez March 11, 2011 at 04:06 PM
Spread the wealth should also mean spread the pain. I just drove by a teachers parking lot at a local school...saw a LOT of really nice expensive cars, a lot better then what I was driving. Get a summer job to make ends meet if it's that bad! Many Americans work 2 sometimes 3 jobs...why are you exempt? Your union supported this Prez who says EVERYONE needs to sacrifice some...step up and "teach" us all how to be better people.
Sue March 11, 2011 at 04:50 PM
The town/government will keep taking and taking - you will never get back what you gave up. Stand up for your pay and benefits. In my opinion, you are not paid enough for the job you do - educating the future leaders of our country. Don't you get tired of giving up your pay and benefits because of poor management? I do.......
Waterford Rez March 11, 2011 at 05:18 PM
They are teachers not saints. This very second there are men and women all over this world making 1/5 of a teachers salary. Any minute they may be killed or maimed. Some come home in body bags. They do it willingly and repeatably. How about giving them a raise? Yes, they teach our children and most do it well, some don't. There are also nurse, doctors, cops, firefighters, social workers, nurses aids, EMTs, etc who work 12 months a year, sometimes 12 hour days to make our world a better place, some for much less then a teacher. So let's not act as though the fate of the entire free world hinges on teachers getting their 4 point something percent raise.
Devil's Advocate March 11, 2011 at 06:02 PM
Waterford Rez - Do you have some kind of ages-old grudge against a past teacher or something? Did you have a teacher that used to pick on you? Why all the hostility? The "men and women all over this world" who "may be killed or maimed" at any minute chose their careers knowing that their lives are at risk, just as teachers chose their profession. Nurses, doctors, cops, etc. also accepted their given salary when they took their jobs, just as teachers did. In response to your poignant observation about teachers' cars, did you ever think that maybe teachers' spouses work as well to provide much-needed income? MANY teachers, myself included, work two jobs all year long, in addition to summer jobs, just to make ends meet and pay the bills. No one is calling teachers saints or complaining that they're underpaid. No one is claiming that teachers are "exempt" from real-world problems and the problems that every American is currently facing.... except you.
Waterford Rez March 11, 2011 at 07:45 PM
Doubles Advocate: To answer your question, no I had a great experience in school, and for the most part so did my kids. Kudos to you for working two jobs and doing what you have to do to make ends meet. You are just like the majority of middle-class Americans. No hostility, many of my friends are teachers and I love them and thank God they are teaching our kids. I never complained that teachers are overpaid. I never said they were exempt from real world problems. I don't know where you see the hostility either; I'm simply making a point. Times are tough right now and the citizens/taxpayers have a right to ask their elected officials to find reasonable solutions to solve the financial problems nearly every city and town is facing in America. Everything should be on the table including issues with the teacher’s union. Why is that concept so hard to grasp? Pfizer's or EB can lay off 400 people and it's a one-day news event that gets four columns on the front page of the newspaper. Just the DISCUSSION of teacher layoffs or a pay freeze is almost front page news seven days a week. It's unwarranted and unnecessary. No hostility intended, just a simple observation.
matyas Gura March 11, 2011 at 08:54 PM
Hey Waterford Rez, Was it WHS that you happened to drive by? Perhaps you confused the students' cars with the teachers'. Certainly you didn't pass by my Waterford school building. Here, there are only 2 stand-out cars. The nicest of which is driven by the principal. The next best thing, a high end SUV, belongs to a woman who's husband makes as much money as all my grade level partners combined. After that, there are 2 BMWs no newer than 7 years old, and an ocean of ordinary Hondas, Toyotas, Subarus, and the like. My wife and I are both Waterford teachers. I work a second job off-and-on during the school year and then full time throughout the summer. I only own used vehicles, one of which is 17 years old. I live in niantic in a raised ranch that borders a swamp and is equidistant from the town dump and state prison. My kids' college accounts are underfunded, and the nicest vacation we took this year was to Waterford, CT. I'm not complaining. It's what I signed up for. But it does give me cause to take offense when others accuse people in my profession of living lavishly or when they argue we have no right to what we signed on for. I pray your ignorance and irrationality is not the byproduct of a Waterford Public Schools education many years ago.
Candy Rollins March 11, 2011 at 09:33 PM
Rudy Beers and the administration protests a bit too much with their Fuzzy Math, 1.Rudy's accounting error that popped up last year caused a deficit that was covered by the teachers, janitors, secretaries and cafeteria workers taking furlough days deducted from their pay. Over the summer Rudy found another one of her accounting errors of HALF A MILLION DOLLARS and again they want the workers to make up for her error. With this why would we trust her health care formula calculations. 2. Just because the health care payment system saves money is not to say that more couldn't be saved maybe with a system with one plan rather than many. 3. The Health Care Reserve Account had a MILLION DOLLARS in it 7 to 10 years ago and was moved to the general town accounts to get a better bond rating to build the new schools. Fair enough, but there has never been a full accounting of where the money disappeared to. What would that money be worth today, could it cover the health care deficit? Craig Powers should calm down since he was willing to work for 160K but the CURRENT SUPERINTENDEND GETS A PACKAGE OF WORTH OVER A QUATER MILLION DOLLARS. I mean full package; travel, health, annuities, whatever and that is what the previous guy got after 19 years. Just ask the Board of Ed. Belair gets all this after only two years experience. PUBLISH THAT CONTRACT MR. PATRONE. 4. I don't see anything new on the table except pay more. Let someone else see their fuzzy math?
Paul Petrone (Editor) March 11, 2011 at 10:05 PM
Once I find Mr. Patrone, I will let him know.
Tim Fioravanti March 11, 2011 at 11:42 PM
Mine is one of the Toyotas. Well said.
John March 12, 2011 at 12:27 AM
Hey why is East Lyme ranked 45 and Waterford ranked 75? This is a big discrepancy for neighboring towns. http://www.schooldigger.com/go/CT/schoolrank.aspx?level=3
matyas Gura March 12, 2011 at 01:20 AM
Maybe it's because East Lyme has a better teacher-to-student ratio, according to your own source. Or maybe it's because the median income of East Lyme is $15,000 more than in Waterford. Or maybe it's because the median house value in east lyme is $24,000 more than in Waterford. Or maybe it's because 36% of East Lyme parents have a bachelors degree compared to 28% in Waterford. Or, as John implied, could it be the teachers in Waterford aren't doing as good a job as those in East Lyme, and thus do not deserve their salaries? If that were the case, what about the teachers in New London? They too neighbor Waterford and they are ranked 163. DOes this mean the New London teachers are doing a poorer job than the Waterford teachers and deserve a pay cut? Or could it be, just maybe, that their are other factors impacting student performance that are out of the teacher's hands, such as language, income, family structure, etc.
matyas Gura March 12, 2011 at 01:39 AM
Funny. Paul Petrone turns a blind eye to huge financial blunders that put innocent teachers at risk, but is unable to ignore a simple and innocent misspelling of his last name. In EVERYONE'S best interest, I suggest Mr. Petrone spend less time correcting the spelling of his name, and more time: 1. compiling adequate and accurate information 2. at least considering the other side of of his overtly biased position. To do otherwise, as he has done, is reckless and irresponsible.
Paul Petrone (Editor) March 12, 2011 at 03:01 AM
First off, I always try to be as balanced as possible. If you think the town has made some bad decisions, I will certainly look into them. I have printed Belair's salary several times, it is a hair under $200,000 (and Rollins is right, there are many extras), while the information about Powers is confidential and very difficult to confirm. The person who wrote that post must have been involved with the hiring of a superintendent. I would guess that if "Candy Rollins" revealed his or her real name, after releasing that information, they would stand to lose their position (either a job or a board member). Beers did not give the health care calculations, that comes straight from the insurance company. I will look into the alleged mistake she made. Waterford's finance board is audited every year by an independent audit company, so the mistake should be caught if there was one. I will ask around on Monday and find the answer. Also, with the health care account, I will look into that as well. Again, every dollar the town spends is tracked and can be found. It is not fair to say there hasn't been fair accounting. On your final point, I read all of the comments on this website and take these allegations seriously. When writing about things as personal as salaries people will always allege bias. It would be easier for me to avoid the issue. But the fact is this salary increase, coupled with the BOE's allocation, has a huge affect on the town's education. I have to write about it.
matyas Gura March 12, 2011 at 04:16 AM
I'm grateful that you wrote about the pay freeze situation. It demands attention. I had only suggested you delve a bit further and consider all angles. You've now stated that you would and for that I am beyond grateful. I await any forthcoming information and PROMISE not to reply. I have said more than my share as it is and I have report cards to finish up. In parting, let me say that I am proud to teach in Waterford, I appreciate the opportunity to teach in Waterford, and I will continue to give my all to the children of Waterford.
Alrighty then March 12, 2011 at 02:40 PM
John - The Town of Waterford HAS the ability to pay, addressed by the First Selectman in the RTM meeting. There is a 9.5 million dollar surplus available to the Town, and the teachers know this. The Council of Governments has told the First Selectpersons, City managers, and Mayors that if they want to drive down employees costs, now is they time to do it, as public perception will drive the point home. Waterford is in a bit of a different spot with it's surplus and excellent bond rating. The Town can afford it, the members of the Board of Finance are choosing to ignore that.
wtfdteacher March 12, 2011 at 03:36 PM
I am amazed by the animosity being shown toward the public sector right now. Where is the anger toward the real cause for the dilemma the towns and states face... big banks, oil companies with record profits, insurance companies raising premiums 20-30% annually, etc. Companies have record profits yet they are still not hiring so they can sit on their mounds of cash. Where is the rage there? Just today I read in the Courant about the new billionaires that reside in CT working as hedge fund managers (I am sure they give a lot back to society. I wonder if any of them were doing a Trivia Night fundraiser at CLMS last night)... how do you think they earned that money? These types of financial service companies mismanaged funds, were totally unethical, CREATED the mess we're in, yet it is the teachers with their grandiose lifestyles who are being targeted... fascinating. Teachers were presented various items from admin. They considered all the options and at the end of the day, they felt they deserved what they had already been promised, nothing more. Mr. Petrone: your coverage needs to be more thorough. Let's investigate Waterford's true financial situation. Can they not afford these contracts or are they just choosing not to live up to the promises they made?
Paul Petrone (Editor) March 12, 2011 at 04:11 PM
The answer to that is not easy, you have to ask each individual taxpayer. Right now, as is, the taxes are expected to raise 6 percent. If the board of education kept everybody on, and didn't lay anybody off, taxpayers would have to pay another $1.2 million. I don't have the numbers on this, but that would probably make the tax increase to about 9 percent, perhaps higher. Can tax payers absorb a 9 percent tax increase? I am not sure. I'd like to hear from the public their thoughts (and preferably somebody who is not a Waterford employee, and has a salary at stake).
CU Seaside March 12, 2011 at 10:52 PM
I agree that there has been too much animosity toward and scapegoating of public employees. But come on. It's the economy. How would teachers and other public employees feel if they were layed off, had their hours cut or were on a fixed income. Most people know that a tax increase may be necessary. A 6 percent increase is outrageous. Education costs have to be reduced and teachers need to help.
mark v. foster March 12, 2011 at 11:20 PM
Dear W. R., I went to a university to earn one degree after another. I put in 2000 to 2500 hrs a year into my job. My plumber doesn't have to work a second job to make ends meet; why should I? I support the wage freeze, but I find your attitude about teachers a bit dismal. I know it's awkward that your taxes contribute to my salary, but really, MUST I drive a wreck to school because I am a public employee? It might be rather hard to find teachers if we make this a prerequisite.
mark v. foster March 12, 2011 at 11:24 PM
Gosh, are we going to continue that 10,000,000 dollars in health claims was the result of bad management idea? Many teachers got sick, I guess. So Town Hall is powerless to "administrate" us out of this mess. Personally, I don't think I'm paid what I'm worth either (not when a basketball coach is earning one million a year!) However, we need to find an answer that allows everyone to keep his job. You don't end a recession by cutting jobs. Now THAT'S what I call a poor management strategy.
john stone March 16, 2011 at 08:37 PM
J. Stone Has anybody thought about next year? If the teachers did indeed take the wage freezes where would they be a year from now? In the exact same spot with administration asking them to give back once again. The wage freeze was simply a band-aid for the current crisis and would have done nothing to fix a long term problem that has been around for years. First furlough days, then wage freezes, what next? A year from now the same problem will still exist and the employees will be asked to bail out the BOE once again. Anybody who ran a business 1.2 million in the hole in the private sector would have lost their job, period.
mark v. foster March 17, 2011 at 12:41 AM
I am not sure that I can agree with your opinion, J. The administration didn't demand a give-back; they gave us the choice of having one or not. Their offer was essentially this: Take your raise or share it. In other words, do we wish to look out for ourselves or for our colleagues and our programs. I think we know how the vote went. The administration is not pocketing the health care premiums, you know. The administration is not poisoning us. If we cannot stay healthy, we really cannot blame them for not being able to absorb the costs. Imagine that you have a car accident every year; your insurance rates are going to sky-rocket. I don't see how this can be attributed to an unfair attitude on the part of the insurer. The only fair criticism that I think that we can make is that WPS might want to institute a "wellness program". We probably spend a great deal of money due to preventable illnesses. The continual vilification of the administration does nothing to address the real issue.
Water Ford March 17, 2011 at 02:08 PM
Why are we casting stones at each other? This is not about job performance, skills, or personal wealth. It’s all about budgets. Each department is given a budget and it will need to adhere to their budget in the best way they see possible…. furlough days, pay freezes, layoffs, reductions of hours, outsourcing, pay reductions, job consolidations, benefit changes, contract concessions, etc.. When times are tough managers need to make tough decisions. Please stop making personal attacks about someone’s profession. Town officials, union officials, and employees need to work together to reduce costs… cuts are not easy, but they are necessary.
Paul Petrone (Editor) April 13, 2011 at 12:46 AM
I know this is long overdue, but I promised I would look into some of Candy Rollins claims. Here is what I found. First off, Rollins alleges that Beers made a $500,000 accounting error. This is not true. Beers, along with the rest of the town, budgeted $500,00 less for medical claims than what came in. So it was a budgeting error, not some accounting error. However, really looking at it, it is hard to blame anybody for it. The claims came in way higher in 2010 than what was happening before. Trying to guess trends in medical claims, aka trying to predict how many people will get sick and how sick they will get sick, is nearly impossible. And Beers put the number at a conservatively high figure, but the claims still exceeded the total. It is hard to blame the town for not knowing the exact amount of claims, it is nearly impossible. The end result is that this years budget makes up the $500,000 in costs. So it is just paying last years total this year. It is not as if the claims were not paid because the town didn't have money. The health care account, as Rollins said, was spent again because of all the claims. The account is used when claims exceed a certain amount (called a risk matrix), and the claims exceeded the amount. The town had to spend that money back to get the matrix refilled.
Paul Petrone (Editor) April 13, 2011 at 12:50 AM
Continuing, the third point, where Rollins suggested many plans instead of one, is not really a good one. Insurance companies give better deals to entities the larger they are, Beers said. It is much like how bigger stores can get better deals on products than little stores, because they buy in bulk. And finally, Rollins was correct, Patch confirmed that Powers would have taken the superintendent's job for $170,000. As you know, Belair was paid what Randy Collins was paid, roughly $200,000.
Jean April 13, 2011 at 01:58 AM
It's hard to budget when health care costs are an unconstrained variable. Do you have any details on the town health plan (co-pays, deductibles, etc)?
Paul Petrone (Editor) April 13, 2011 at 02:19 AM
They vary in each contract. Some are as low as $5 (some of the lower paid employees), the teachers actually pay on the higher end for co-pays. They also pay the most into their health insurance.


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