Last Updated: May 19, 11:34 a.m.
The Flagler County school district’s teacher and service employee unions have suspended collective bargaining negotiations with the district following what both unions say is a breaking of a pledge by the district to award one-time health insurance premium rebates to employees. The unions consider that “bad faith,” breaking trust in the district, damaging what for many years had been cordial relations between the two sides, and raising the possibility of more formal measures.
The dispute emerged after district negotiators had agreed to award up to $900 in insurance premium rebates to employees in the coming year–$100 for every year an employee has worked for the district, up to nine years–only for the negotiating team to come back to the table and say: no deal. The district team did so last week after a closed-door meeting of the Flagler County School Board, where the proposal was voted down.
“The topic that was tentatively agreed to by the District’s negotiating team was a new idea for consideration involving health insurance,” Kristy Gavin, the school board’s attorney who sits in on closed door sessions of the board. “Unfortunately, the District’s Chief Negotiating Team TA’d the idea before it had been presented to the Board for consideration.” TA means tentative agreement. “The tentative agreement on the part of the chief negotiating team was unfortunately premature. The Board values its relationship with the unions and as we are at the beginning of negotiations with all areas of the contract up for consideration looks forward to collaboratively working with the unions to successful outcomes.”
Asked whether the insurance rebate proposal was still on the table, Gavin said “the topic could still be brought up and discussed,” though it had been voted down by the board.
Expect an outpouring of union members at Tuesday evening’s School Board member, when the members will protest the board’s decision and attempt to sway it back their wat.
“From where we sit, what they’ve done is the definition of bad faith bargaining,” Katie Hansen, president of the Flagler County Education Association, the union representing teachers, said. “We are consulting with FEA’s legal staff to determine what our recourse and next steps for what they’ve done is.” FEA is the Florida Education Association. Hansen said just as she is empowered by her membership to negotiate on its behalf, the same is true of the negotiating team on the other side.
Two days after the teachers union learned of the take-back, the district’s negotiating team told the same thing to the Flagler Educational Support Professional Association’s Brun Hudson and his team.
“They apologized profusely and they said they had to pull the offer back,” Hudson said, “which is kind of an unprecedented event because normally that does not happen during bargaining. And it sets a terrible tone, because you have that broken trust between the unions and the district. And we’ve spent a lot of time building that trust, not just during my presidency, but by previous presidents for like the better part of 30 years. We’ve been trying to build that trust with the district and we had it, and now that trust has kind of eroded away.”
Hudson, like Hansen, had to report the development to the union’s membership. “It was a shock to my team,” he said. “It was a shock to our service unit director. And it’s been a shock to all of our members now that we have to come back and tell them that oh, by the way, and you know, we said we said you’re going to get this money, but now you’re not.”
With close to 1,800 employees, the school district is the county’s largest employer. It is self-insured through Brown and Brown. Teachers, directors, and service employees all pay the same insurance rates regardless of income, depending on the plan they choose. The employee’s share of premiums across three available plans range between $67 a month to $284 a month for an employee without dependents, and from $1,305 a month to $1,864 a month for an employee and family. Vision and dental plans are separate, additional costs. (See the rate sheet here.)
The district has an insurance committee that combines members of both unions, including Hansen and Hudson, district staff and other employees. The collegial body is a collective that has nothing to do with the union negotiating teams: it’s meant as a unified advisory group. It met for the last time about two months ago, when it finalized plans for the coming year’s insurance rates. Those plans would then be submitted to the school board for ratification. At that meeting, Hansen found out from the district’s insurance broker Brown and Brown, that there was $4.2 million in the insurance reserve fund. The minimum required in that fund is $1.2 million, or the equivalent of two months’ worth of claims. (last year the district had $10.2 million in claims.) So the reserves are over-funded.
The money could not be used to increase the district’s contribution to the insurance premiums. But the reserves could be used in other ways to lowering costs.
An earlier version of this article, attributing the claim to Hansen, had stated that the district used some of those reserves to pay for repairs to the pool at Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club. The district’s chief finance officer, Patty Wormeck, said that is incorrect. “Self-insurance fund reserves have never been used to pay for repairs or other items at BTS&RC,” she wrote in an email, but funds have been used for wellness incentives for insured employees, paying for their membership at the swim club in two successive years, from 2017 to 2019. “Other uses of the funds aside from the free membership to BTS&RC,” Wormeck wrote, “are a result of items the insurance committee voted on and include the following wellness incentives: fitness rooms, preventative visit incentives, incentive to employees enrolled in HSA plan, incentive, and an incentive to employees that used the clinic.
“So our team was having conversation about how do we best use that the money that’s in the insurance reserve because we certainly have far more in there that needs to be in there,” Hansen said. The team came up with the rebate idea. The district and the unions were conducting what’s called “full-book” negotiations: every three years, the collective bargaining agreement is renegotiated from start to finish. The insurance rebate proposal was part of those negotiations.
The district negotiating team, which is led by Assistant Superintendents Bobby Bossardet and Paul peacock, along with Human Resources Director Jewel Johnson and Finance Director Patty Wormeck, all welcomed the idea, Hansen said, calling it creative, out-of-the-box thinking, and appeared willing to sign on at two successive negotiations meeting. A memorandum of understanding was drafted. The “loyalty” rebate was set at a maximum of nine years because the district has been self-funded for nine years. It would only go to the 1,100-some employees currently enrolled in the health plans. (See the April 22 MOU).
By the unions’ calculation, there would have been a one-time cost of over $ million only if every single employee qualified for the full $900 rebate. That’s not the case. The union estimated the actual cost to be closer to $800,000.
“The district CFO,” Hansen said, referring to Wormeck, “said at the end of this fiscal year, they are projecting that the insurance reserve funds will be $4.3 million. Take out of that $800,000 to pay the loyalty rebate. That leaves them with $3.5 million. But they’re only required to have a minimum of $1.2 million. So we’re still leaving almost three times the minimum amount that they need to keep in there. To me our proposal was very fiscally responsible and conservative.”
The plan was agreed to by the district’s negotiating team at two successive negotiating sessions, on April 13 and April 20. “Again, literally, and I quote,” Hansen said, quoting the district negotiators’ reaction, “that this is a brilliant plan. It is financially responsible. You know great jobs thinking out of the box. We’re happy to sign this and do this for employees. So we signed and tentatively agreed to it. And then we didn’t hear anything until we returned to the table two weeks later, which was May 9, only for them to tell us that the board refuses to support this tentative agreement because they quote unquote, don’t like the numbers. That’s what we were told.”
Hansen said the district negotiating team consists of the superintendent’s executive cabinet, or “the vast majority of her senior staff at the district level that sit on this bargaining team, including your chief financial officer, and they’re not batting an eye,” she said. “So I don’t understand why the board wouldn’t support it.”
It did not help matters that the district’s negotiating team “reneged” on its tentative agreement (a word hansen used in her message to her membership) the very same week of Teacher and Employee Appreciation Week, when the district asked on its Facebook page, “Let us know about a school employee who impacted your life in school.”
To Brun, the board’s reversal also goes against the principle of being self-insured. “When you’re self-insured, one of the pluses is that you control your money, you control the money that comes in and you can do things like offer your people that are in the program, rebates. And that was one of the main reasons nine years ago we switched to the self insurance plan, so we can have a little more control over how our plans are created and how our money is used. And so yeah, again, we were shocked that the district decided to do this. It came out of the blue.”
I’m sticking with the Union.
During a conversation with a “first time” elected
school board member she commented all students should attend Charter
Schools. I don’t doubt that she would
advocate taking away the “safety net” provisions for public school workers
based on her “pro charter ” schools comments made to me at scholarship fund- raiser event for “Public School” Graduates in October 2021. How ironic that?
Roy Longo says
As a past Vice President of a Local in the International Association of Fire Fighters, and a member of many negotiating team, it is appalling for schools to take back something that has already been TA’d by both sides. I guarantee you if the teachers association TA’d a raise and came back and we want to take it back and negotiate for a higher raise the schools would would scream foul. But because the schools are do it, everyone should take it? Absolutely not. This is just another example of how todays school board proves they do not care about the teachers at all. It’s disgusting.
Union Strong! says
The District needs to be reminded that insurance premiums are a mandatory subject of bargaining. Shame on you Flagler County School Board.
What is the motivation of the board to hold back this money? It truly belongs to the people who have paid into it. Who is collecting all the interest that this overfunded account is making? The money belongs to the people who have paid into the fund without a doubt. What and why does Board plan to do with it? It is a shameful situation.
Our Insurance reserve funds were used to repair the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club. The ironic thing is that if Flagler School Employees wish to access the pool we have to pay a fee after it was our money that repaired it and kept the Club open. The district was all for using our reserve funds for that project. So, how can they justify not rebating money into their employees pockets for overpriced policies with extremely high deductibles? It is a sad state of affairs in this teacher’s humble opinion.
During Teacher Appreciation week we were told by the District how much we mean to them via an email. Was that the truth or a myth?
Deirdre Rutledge says
Is a $800,000 temporary savings going to affect votes for the upcoming elections? You bet it is.
I think school board members will ultimately regret not working with the union and teachers/staff for making a decision that so drastically affects employees of Flagler County Schools.
Do they have to worry about basic medical insurance? If they do, wake up, everyone else does too.
If not, maybe keep ‘tentative’ promises, because teachers feel like they’re being screwed over. No need for a teacher union if things were fair.
Be fair, and have some compassion for people that work so hard and make less each year because of rising insurance rates.
Why is there need to have so much extra money in the bank? It’s ridiculous, and a message for the school board – if you think some thing is not doable don’t say it is, and then change your mind. This wouldn’t be acceptable in any other line of work and it shouldn’t be for teachers and staff either.
For many school employees their choices mean the difference between affordable insurance or having no insurance, or so limited that they can’t fund insurance for their family.
Is it going to matter to people that gave this their thumbs down at the end of the day when they don’t have their jobs anymore? That’s what’s going to happen – WAKE UP! Make decisions that will reflect equality and compassion, or at least make common sense.
Absolute idiocy on display by the school board. They have lost any and all credibility with this shallow act. During a time of economic hardships, in their ignorance, they have decided to take back a verbal promise regarding a health insurance rebate?!
Teachers in Florida are unable to strike, but there are other actions that can be taken. I wonder what would happen if all teachers decided to only work contract hours? Hmmmmmmmmm…….
Good Apple says
Teachers in this county cry poor mouth all the time when in fact they are some of the best paid public servants. As far as their union goes…this is a right to work state so whatever unions had in those northern states many of you came from, it does not apply here.
Says someone who has no experience in education whatsoever…
Jill Espinosa says
Mr. Good Apple is a typical example of someone chiming in when they clearly are not here in the trenches, going above and beyond to get the job done for our students and families. We are well paid because we are some of the hardest working professionals around and Flagler County is as fortunate to have us as we are grateful to be here. Unfortunately our gratitude and devotion appears unmatched by the board when it comes to an opportunity to share the loyalty rebate. Expecting to be treated fairly is nowhere near complaining. Just because we proudly work in a profession that demands more from us than the average career and just because we are devoted to our students and families DOES NOT MEAN that we are supposed to put up with abuse and disrespect. Mr. Apple’s comments are not only rotten but completely out of touch with the reality in our schools the last 2 years. As a 24 year educator, I can assure you these have been the toughest I’ve ever seen. Should you or any other apples decide to step foot in a classroom, let’s see if you make it through a day without the rest of us having to scrape you off the floor. Our teachers deserve OUR rebate and a School Board willing to keep their word.
Union Strong! says
Teachers in Florida are so underpaid compared to their counterparts in the rest of the country that money is being poured into the school districts the last several years to be more competitive. So far, they have gone from 49th lowest paid in the country to 47th. And let’s not talk about how bad the veteran teachers have it these days. Sorry guy, you have no idea how poorly teachers in Florida are treated.
I wonder what other professions or jobs have people that clock out and then continue to work a few hours more. Hmm- I clock in at Home Depot for my shift of 8 to 2. I clock out at 2 and then continue to stock the shelves??? Does not happen! Why should teachers be expected to do that? Go by any school and you will see teachers cars well after the kiddos have gone home. Mr. Apple you need to go back to school to learn a few more things.
Deborah Coffey says
You need a fact check and some respect for all teachers in a country you’ll be the first to say is the greatest in the world.
The Union is strong and is always working in the best interest of the teachers and staff. Retaining teachers is difficult these days, Florida faces a teacher shortage and teachers are leaving in record numbers. Katie Hansen, the president of the Flagler County Education Association recognizes the need to honor the agreement in order to maintain quality teacher. Great strong Union.
No Political Affiliation says
This is exactly the type of nonsense that caused me to leave the school department the same year I won employee of the year for my school. Too much of the school department leadership is compromised of incompetent theatre politicians. I experienced it firsthand, I watched it happen to my department and other departments. The school board is completely out of touch with reality and they have consistently proved that workers rights are secondary AT BEST.
“The nations premier learning organization.”
What a joke.
Mr. C says
What do you mean by “school department”?