Previously, I commented on the savings the Kaukauna school district had attained by getting insurance outside the WEA Trust. I suspected at the time that it was always overpriced, not just for this one year. And a later column by Byron York confirms it.
The problem for Hartland-Lakeside was that WEA Trust was charging significantly higher rates than the school district could find on the open market. School officials knew that because they got a better deal from United HealthCare for coverage of nonunion employees. On more than one occasion, Superintendent Glenn Schilling asked WEA Trust why the rates were so high. "I could never get a definitive answer on that," says Schilling.
Changing to a different insurance company would save Hartland-Lakeside hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be spent on key educational priorities -- especially important since the cash-strapped state government was cutting back on education funding. But teachers union officials wouldn't allow it; the WEA Trust requirement was in the contract, and union leaders refused to let Hartland-Lakeside off the hook.
That's where Wisconsin's new budget law came in. The law, bitterly opposed by organized labor in the state and across the nation, limits the collective bargaining powers of some public employees. And it just happens that the Hartland-Lakeside teachers' collective bargaining agreement expired on June 30. So now, freed from the expensive WEA Trust deal, the school district has changed insurers.
"It's going to save us about $690,000 in 2011-2012," says Schilling. Insurance costs that had been about $2.5 million a year will now be around $1.8 million. What union leaders said would be a catastrophe will in fact be a boon to teachers and students.