Perhaps the greatest present challenge is how to cope with ever-increasing rises in costs for health care benefits. According to Dave Campbell, superintendent of Olivet Schools:
"More than any other issue, the rising cost of health insurance is leading to the elimination of quality programming for children in our public schools. Many school districts are having to lay off teachers, thus increasing class sizes for their students. Quality programming such as block scheduling and middle school team teaching have to be cut in order to cover the rising cost of insurance premiums."
Connie Gillette: "Aside from insurance, one of our largest growing costs is the district contribution to the state retirement system. ... There are a number of changes that could be made to relieve the strain on the retirement system and its financial obligations. Currently, a person can retire with full health benefits without having worked to reach full retirement. Those retiring with a reduced pension (less than 30 years) should also pay a proportionate amount toward their health insurance benefits. Our system encourages educators from other states to retire, move to Michigan, work a minimal number of years and retire from Michigan with fully paid health insurance. This is a drain on the retirement system.
"Until we require employees to pay a portion of their health insurance, there will be no incentive to shop for other plans that may be comparable but more economical. Mindless access to medical and prescription care is encouraged with the MESSA program. Employees must take ownership and think twice about when they go to the doctor or run to the pharmacy. Currently, nearly nothing comes from their pockets, and they have no idea of how much the doctor, hospital or pharmacy visit is costing, nor do they care, because it doesn’t impact their pocketbooks."
Brian Higgins: "We try to maintain good relationships with our teachers, ... and I think we’ve been able to do that. That’s a big key: the relationship that you have. [W]e were trying to contain health care costs, and that’s a touchy issue, because they were very happy with MESSA, and they’ve liked the coverage they have had over the years."
There are at least five alternatives that a school board has when it comes to meeting the demand for high-quality, affordable health care benefits: (1) join an association’s plan, such as that offered by the Michigan Education Special Services Association; (2) accept a bid from an independent insurance provider; (3) enter into a cooperative purchasing arrangement; (4) pool together with other districts to form a multiple employer welfare arrangement plan; or (5) participate in a future state of Michigan-sponsored plan, should one materialize.
Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses. The following discussion is intended to highlight the various options available. Suggestions concerning better collective bargaining agreements are addressed in Section IX.