School board wins challenge over insurance coverage

February 15, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — The city school board did not violate its contract with teachers when it switched health plans last fall, state arbitrators have decided.

The Bridgeport Education Association challenged the switch to the state’s Connecticut Partnership Plan, a policy that essentially provided the same coverage to teachers at less cost to the district.

Still, the union’s challenge was based on principal, with BEA Attorney Eric Marshall telling the board last fall that the board couldn’t change the policy unilaterally, but rather was bound to negotiate the change.

The change to the less expensive plan was in fact made on Sept. 1, 2019, while the challenge worked its way through the arbitration process. The union argued that the Partnership Plan was completely different and not merely a change of carriers. They also requested a reduction in premiums charged to teachers.

Attorneys for the school board argued that technically there was no “carrier” and that union representatives acknowledged the new plan is a good one.

“The union informed its members that this grievance was not about the quality of the two plans but about whether the unilateral implementation violated the contract,” said the decision by arbitrator Susan R. Meredith.

Some members will pay more under the new plan, but many will pay less.

In the 2018-19 district budget, the health insurance savings for certified staff is estimated at about $2 million, according to Marlene Siegel, chief financial officer for the district.

An attempt to switch to the Connecticut Partnership Plan was instituted with all board and city employees. About half agreed and half sent the matter to arbitration.

On Monday, BEA President Gary Peluchette acknowledged the decision but did not comment on it.

lclambeck@ctpost.com; twitter/lclambeck