Teachers, board to discuss health care

The school board on Monday night agreed to new contract negotiations with teachers to discuss the issue of rising health insurance costs.

Martin Laster, superintendent of South Whidbey schools, told teachers that the board is willing to open a "limited scope of negotiations," based on state funding of health care costs versus the local share of those costs.

Last month, teachers filled the board room and told stories about their shrinking pay checks. Even though a voter initiative guaranteed them a 3.7 percent pay hike this year, the Legislature reduced state support for health insurance premiums, which have been increasing dramatically. As a result, said South Whidbey Education Association President Scott Mauk, some teachers are receiving less take-home pay this year than last year.

Teachers reacted positively to Laster’s comments on Monday, giving him a round of polite applause.

"It’s a start," Mauk said. "We’re pleased."

Teachers have asked the school board to dip into the district’s $600,000 reserve fund to help pay more of their health insurance costs.

South Whidbey’s teachers are in their second year of a two-year contract. Formal bargaining for the next contract will begin in the spring, according to Mauk. But with the board’s action Monday, the two parties will be talking about health care costs in the near future.

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