By Rachel Christian

Staff Writer

The Osceola County School District and union representatives sat down at the bargaining table Wednesday to discuss wages and healthcare costs for more than 7,000 teachers and support staff.

There is a lot on the line this year, and the major talking point was healthcare.

Employee premiums – especially family, spouse and child plans – are set to skyrocket under the district’s latest proposed contract for the 2018-19 school year. An employee receiving middle-of-the-road coverage for themselves and a child would see a nearly 65 percent yearly increase from $2,900 to $4,780 in premium costs.

Apryle Jackson, director of the Osceola County Education Association (OCEA), said her union has demanded a drastic reduction in healthcare premiums.

“I told them we couldn’t accept a pay cut for teachers, which is what would happen if these changes went through,” Jackson said. “I asked them to go back and find a way to offset the employee costs, at least for another year.”

School support staff – which includes all school employees except teachers, custodians, maintenance workers and bus drivers – are facing the same health insurance increases, according to their proposed contract released last week.

That contract also calls for a 30 cent an hour pay increase for these employees.

Jackson said the combination of a modest pay increase and higher healthcare premiums could have a devastating effect on staff who already make less than teachers.

“Some of these paraprofessionals, these educational support staff who assist teachers in the classroom, they make less than $12 and $13 an hour,” Jackson said.

Jackson said she has been telling employees at every school to consider enrolling their child in Florida Kid Care – a Medicaid subsidized healthcare program that operates on a sliding scale – because it would be more cost effective then keeping their children insured through the school district.

The support staff contract also includes the following provisions:

  • A new fee charged for no-shows at the Center For Employee Health.
  • Revisions to the Employee Sick Leave Buyback Program.
  • A procedure detailing how office support staff, computer technicians and other groups can organize sub-committees to discuss and prioritizes specific needs within their groups before presenting those needs to the main bargaining unit.

A couple notable victories did come out of Wednesday’s meeting. National Board Certified teachers will now receive a financial incentive, and 22 schools will implement teacher-mentoring programs for new hires.

The school district and OCEA will sit back down at the bargain table at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 5, in the district administrative building located on Bill Beck Boulevard in Kissimmee.

Jackson and John Boyd, the district’s chief negotiator, agreed to hold weekly meetings to discuss contract revisions. Jackson said she hopes this helps, but believes that if a decision is not reached by mid-April, either the union or the district will declare an impasse.