More than 100 retired teachers are suing Cobleskill-Richmond-ville over a new policy that would have them pay part of their health insurance.
The suit names the school district, school board and Superintendent Lynn Macan as defendants.
The controversy stems from the new contract the district signed with active teachers in September. It has active teachers pay 16 percent of their health insurance costs for 2010-11 and also opened the possibility to have retired teachers pay a portion of their health insurance.
That possibility became a reality in October, when the district sent letters to retirees saying they would have to pay 10 percent of their individual health insurance costs starting in January. The start date was later pushed back to July 1, 2010.
Retired teachers protested at first and then packed every board meeting since October.
The suit, filed in February, charges breach of contract and “arbitrary and capricious conduct.” It asks that the policy revert to what contracts called for when the retirees actually retired––that they pay zero percent for individual coverage.
The district maintains that the old contracts never intended to give free health insurance for life, school attorney Mike West said.
“This is very clear. . .there is no ambiguity in the contract,” Mr. West said.
“It never says you will have lifetime health insurance for nothing. Each contract changes with each new contract. The law is clear on this and supports the school board.”
Not so, countered James Bilik, a New York State United Teachers attorney who’s representing the retirees.
“Our analysis of the contract language indicates that the percentage the district pays remains the same throughout retirement,” Mr. Bilik said.
“It’s an issue of contract interpretation.”
In dollars, a retired teacher would pay $53.90 per month in a Blue Shield plan under the proposed policy, according to C-R Business Manager Melissa Morlang.
More than half of the 150 retirees are covered by Medicare Part B. Currently, C-R reimburses them at $96.40 per month for their Medicare expenses.
Under the new plan, those retirees would be reimbursed about $43 per month, Ms. Morlang said.
It was savings like these C-R was trying to attain when planning a new school budget during a recession, Ms. Macan said.
“It’s the board’s position that this was lawful and fiscally responsible,” she said. “We were looking in every corner for savings this budget season.
“We’re in unprecedented times.”
But she understands the retired teachers’ position, too.
“Certainly, any reasonable person could see both sides of this argument,” Ms. Macan said.
The case may take as long as 18 months, Mr. West said. Mr. Bilik said he will submit issues to the judge in several months.