By DAVID ADAM
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
A change in the insurance plan for teachers is part of a tentative contract agreement reached late Thursday night by the Quincy School Board and the Quincy Federation of Teachers.
The deal was reached at 10:57 p.m. after more than five hours of negotiations. The contract must still be ratified by the School Board and the district's teachers.
The School Board met in closed session Wednesday and Thursday to consider changes to the insurance plan, and a special meeting has been called for Monday on the same topic.
Valarie Bordenkircher, president of the Quincy Federation of Teachers, said the nearly 500 teachers and 180 para-educators in the district will be notified Friday of when and where they will vote next week.
"We're shooting for Monday or Tuesday," she said. "I believe we have something that our members are going to be interested in. We expect a positive vote."
The School Board cannot vote on the contract until after the teachers have ratified it, and the board must first provide a 48-hour public notice. The board's next monthly meeting is Sept. 25, although another special meeting could be called before then.
Only six negotiation sessions were needed. The last time the two sides met before Thursday was on Aug. 6. Federal mediator Jerry Meehan attended Thursday's meeting.
"The reason it came about so quickly was the teachers have been asking for the last several years for the district to leave the self-insurance plan and go to a fully insured outside carrier," said School Board member Scott Stone, the lead spokesperson for the district's negotiating team. "For the last month, the district has been in some pretty serious talks with various outside carriers."
Stone said a request for bids was submitted three weeks ago, and bids were opened Monday. Blue Cross Blue Shield was the lowest bidder, and Stone said the bid was "significantly lower" than what the district currently pays a third-party administrator to handle the self-insurance fund.
"Where the real push comes in is that the fiscal year for the self-insurance plan ends Oct. 1, so we'll be rolling into new deductibles and things like that," Stone said. "That's the obvious time to make a change, and after Blue Cross was the lowest bidder, we knew we needed to act fairly quickly."
Stone said if the change of insurance providers is approved by both sides, the district's risk will be reduced.
"When we're self-insured, we collect premiums from employees, and when the claims come in, we just pay the claims," Stone said. "If we have a half a dozen or a dozen serious claims, that can adversely affect our budget. If we have that fixed bid, we know what our costs are going to be.
"We're in the business of education, not in the business of insurance. Now we can focus on education."
Stone didn't reveal any other details about the contract, except to say that the change in insurance "wasn't the biggest talking point, but overall, it was the factor that made the biggest impact."
"Until we have spoken to our (union) members, I'm not at liberty to discuss any details of the contract," Bordenkircher said.
The self-insurance fund lost $26,758 in the past fiscal year, and that's after the district pumped an additional $225,000 into it to maintain a bare-bones balance.
During the past fiscal year, the self-insurance fund had total expenses of $8.285 million and total revenues of $8.258 million, which includes the extra $225,000 contribution made by the district last September. The revenue comes from employee-paid premiums and contributions by the district.
The teachers' two-year contract expired last month.
"Valarie and myself have a good relationship, and we didn't try to be unreasonable," Stone said. "We know the district is in tough financial times."
"It had a different feel to it," Bordenkircher said of the talks. "In years past, we would walk out and know sometimes it felt like we were going back to square one. This time, we built and added on instead of starting over. That's a good feel.
"We had to get to know one another and build a relationship in that negotiating room, and we did that. We worked really hard last night. Both sides have done a lot of homework, and it was very evident that both sides came prepared."