LONG BEACH — After nearly two years of contract negotiations, the Long Beach Unified School District and its teachers union have reached a tentative agreement that compromises over health care benefits.
LBUSD officials said the plan addresses the escalating costs of health care in future years while saving the district about $1.5 million next year through health plan adjustments, including changes to pharmacy plans.
The agreement would also save the district's Head Start Program, a federal preschool program for low-income families that serves hundreds of children in Long Beach.
The Teachers Association of Long Beach (TALB) and the School Board will consider the contract for ratification within the next few weeks.
LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser said the contract is a fair deal that maintains the district's competitive salary and benefits package.
"We're pleased to announce this tentative agreement, which preserves affordable, high quality health care for our teachers, nurses and librarians," Steinhauser said in a statement. "At the same time, we commend union leadership for agreeing to a collaborative method of controlling long-term costs."
The rising cost of employee health care has become a source of contention in school districts across California as public education faces millions of dollars in state funding cuts.
LBUSD teachers currently pay no monthly premiums on their health insurance. The district pays up to $21,862 a year in health benefits for a teacher under the most expensive family plan.
TALB and the LBUSD have been in contract negotiations for 20 months but hit a stalemate on health care benefits. The two parties reached impasse in August.
Under the tentative agreement, the school district's maximum contributions for medical premiums would be set at 100 percent of the most expensive plan for employees. If the cost of the plan goes up in 2014, the school district contribution would cover up to 3.5 percent of the increase - and the employee will pay the difference.
The school district had previously proposed a maximum employer contribution cap of no more than 95 percent of the 2012 premium costs of the most expensive plans. The proposal, however, drew backlash from teachers who said the plan would cost some employees hundreds of dollars each month and would put a burden on families.
Last month, hundreds of teachers rallied outside of the Board of Education meeting in protest.
TALB President Virginia Torres said the agreement is a compromise by both parties.
"This has been a difficult time for teachers, nurses, and librarians, and the students we teach," Torres said in a statement. "Our members will pay more for their health care, on top of the pay cuts, benefit cuts, and severe layoffs we have already taken over the past few years."
Under the strain of state budget reductions, the school district has laid off more than 1,000 employees and cut its budget by $300 million.
Like many school districts, LBUSD planned to cut Head Start save funds. Under the new agreement, Head Start would be saved at the expense of Head Start Teachers, who would take an 11-day pay reduction.
The school district had planned to eliminate the program next year.