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LA Unified board approves new employee health care package

Vanessa Romo | April 15, 2015

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Monica-RatliffThe LA Unified school board yesterday approved a health care package of benefits for its unions that will increase the district’s contributions to the plan to $1.23 billion over the next three years. without requiring an analysis of the long-term effects of additional costs, including the possibility of bankruptcy.

Board member Monica Ratliff tried to require that the proposal, from Superintendent Ramon Cortines, include additional information before the board votes on a new budget in June. But the effort failed by a 5-2 vote after a heated discussion that was largely led by Tamar Galatzan and President Richard Vladovic, supporters of the measure who are up for re-election next month.

“The public should have this information before the budget is approved,” Ratliff told the board, calling it a “reasonable request.”

She even offered to pay an outside firm to conduct the study using her own office’s discretionary funds, adding, “We cannot continue to spend large sums of money without a thorough understanding of the future …There’s a point, it exists, where we are not fiscally viable.”

Ultimately, Ratliff, a former teachers union chapter chair, was the lone vote against the health care package saying, “I’m going to vote no on this. And I’m going to continue to vote no on large monetary expenditures because I think we are going toward a cliff.”

The plan keeps benefits and premiums unchanged for the district’s 225,000 covered employees, retirees, and their eligible dependents as the price tag for the district goes up. By the end of 2015 the district expects to spend $1.029 billion, increasing to $1.233 in 2018.

Ratliff asked for a 10-year impact analysis detailing outcomes in several worst-case scenarios, including the effects of bankruptcy, on the district’s retirees and employees.

Board member George McKenna, who ran unopposed in a March primary to secure his seat on the board for the next five years, was the only other member to support Ratliff’s amendment. He urged the board to be fearless in taking an honest look at the district’s fiscal future, regardless of the popularity or unpopularity of the outcomes.

“It almost sounds as though, if we get this information it might lead to some disruption of what, peace? Because we know something we didn’t want to know or should know?,” McKenna said. “Shouldn’t this be a part of preparing for the budget?,” he asked board members, who apparently disagreed.

Galatzan argued that Cortines’ staff is too busy developing a $7.3 billion budget to take on the challenge of an additional study.

“What I’m worried about is [Cortines’] staff who’s going to be spending every waking moment in the next two months crafting the budget are going to have to take time out to get back to us,” said Galatzan, who is in a runoff race for the District 3 seat.

Vladovic is in a difficult race for District 7.

“This is just a plan for three years. This isn’t going to bankrupt anybody,” he said, before launching into an impassioned speech directed at union members, during which he expressed dismay over the changes in the accessibility of lifetime benefits: While once available to teachers after just five consecutive years of working for the district, they now come after 25 years of service.

“We’ve never paid employees enough, nor have we treated them fair enough,” Vladovic said to rousing applause before calling for a vote.

The health care benefits package was developed separately from the district’s collective bargaining efforts with any of the unions, but it eliminates a major financial issue in the district’s negotiations with UTLA. The two sides are in expedited negotiations for a new contract with the aid of a mediator. The next session is today.

“We are encouraged by the conversations we’ve been having during mediation around a number of issues,” Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the teachers union, said, shortly after the health benefits vote. He did not elaborate.

Among other items approved at the meeting was the district’s support for Senate Bill 277, which would end the “Personal Belief” exemption for student immunizations. About 100 parents from the surrounding Los Angeles and Orange County area were at the meeting to urge the board not to back the bill. It is scheduled for a vote in the legislature next week. But only a handful of women belonging to “Ladies with Babies” and “Million Moms” stuck around to speak to the board.

The board voted 7-0 in favor of the bill.

The members also unanimously approved the district’s first all-girl high school. The Girls Academic Leadership Academy will launch in 2016-17 as a pilot school after several years of effort by school leaders. A second all-girls school, The Girls Athletic Leadership School, a charter for middle school students, was also approved, although Bennett Kayser voted against it.


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