Ben Ruyle is a third-generation teacher in Springfield School District 186.
His grandmother, the late Donna Beerup, taught for 28 years at Washington Middle School and Dubois and Lincoln elementary schools.
Ruyle’s father, Tim, is retiring this spring from Wilcox Elementary School after 30 years in the district and his wife, Stephanie, also teaches at Wilcox.
After graduating from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Ruyle was slated to go to graduate school, but caught on with District 186 as a paraprofessional in 2007. One of the attractions of the job, he said, was the insurance plan.
The passage of a new health insurance plan by the board of education on Apr. 20 has some members in a dither and has Ruyle wondering about his own future with the district.
“(Teachers are) constantly under barrage,” said Ruyle, a student support services teacher at Dubois Elementary School. “Now we’re under barrage from our own board (of education). You have to show someone you care about them.”
The board voted 6-1 to adopt the plan, which went against the insurance committee’s proposal. Last Monday, board members refused to second a motion to open up further discussion about it, prompting a torrent of calls in the public comment period, led by Springfield Education Association President Aaron Graves.
The plan increases individual and family deductibles by 20 percent and boosts office visit co-pays by the same percentage. It also doubles emergency room co-pays.
The insurance committee’s proposal would have upped insurance holders’ premiums by 5 percent.
Board members reiterated last week that they are supportive of teachers but have a duty to pay down a $3 million deficit from the self-insurance fund. New board president Scott McFarland insisted in a recent interview that it wasn’t one of the district’s more contentious votes — Micah Miller who represents Subdistrict 2 cast the lone vote against the adopted plan — and it didn’t warrant further discussion.
Susan Smith, a nurse at Franklin Middle School, called the plan “a nightmare.”
“Health insurance is designed to provide coverage when an emergency happens,” Smith said. The new plan is providing “less coverage at higher costs,” she said.
Jennine Chambers, a resource teacher at Ball Charter School, which is under the health plan along with workers from Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 15, said she’s concerned that carriers will be put off by the higher deductibles and opt not to go to the doctor.
“We felt this was our last chance to get (the board) to listen,” Chambers said. “I’ve never been so disgusted in my life.”
Ruyle said he would have been fine paying a higher premium and he understood that as part of a self-funded plan there will be parties who will have higher claims.
“We all take care of each other,” Ruyle said. “Managed plans are moneymakers for insurance companies and no one else.”
Ruyle said he works with students who have physically attacked him and while he said the students are his “pride and joy,” he questioned why the board “would jeopardize the health of teachers when there’s a myriad of other ways you could be fiscally responsible.
“To do it in the middle of a (health) pandemic is in poor taste,” he added.
“The board and (Superintendent Jennifer Gill) talk about unprecedented times. It’s an unprecedented move to balance and increase the capital overlay of the district firmly on the backs of employees,” Graves said. “You need your employees in a healthy place.”
When Chambers called into the May 4 meeting, she talked about a district co-worker who is highly susceptible to breast cancer. The employee, Chambers said, has a difficult time paying for the MRI annually. Now it will cost her more, Chambers added.
“Will she need,” Chambers said, “to choose between food on her table or her health? If she misses an early diagnosis, do you realize the money it will cost (the district) in the end?”
Smith is worried about prior authorization of medications, that “someone in an office 500 miles away” may be making choices over her doctor.
“We’re trying to look out for all employees,” Smith said. “They could plan budgets on that (5 percent premium increase). Now, you don’t where to start.”
McFarland said the only times there should be a reconsideration to vote are on contentious issues or if new information has to come to light that re-frames the discussion.
Neither of those things occurred, McFarland said.
“It would be another reason to reconsider it if it was 4-3, but it was 6-1,” he said. “It wasn’t a divisive vote.”
McFarland has been adamant about the board paying down the $3 million deficit in the insurance fund at a quicker pace. The adopted plan pays it down over 20 percent annually, he said, by not raising premiums. It increased the annual deductible and out-of-pocket limit, he acknowledged, but only one-third of people on the plan hit their limit and those who did “would still see, on average, a lesser increase than if we increased the premiums for everyone.”
Graves said the health plan becomes “the number one or number two issue,” along with teacher security, when new contract talks start.
“They overlap, mental and physical security,” Graves said. “I’m glad we’re talking about it in public. This is nothing to keep behind closed doors.
“As dysfunctional as Monday’s meeting was, transparency is healthy.”
Contact Steven Spearie: 788-1524, email@example.com, twitter.com/stevenspearie.