Inside the OCPS teachers health insurance impasse

There have been lots of numbers publicized regarding the proposed increase in health insurance costs for Orange County teachers. Here are the facts.

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Orange County Superintendent Maria Vazquez on Feb. 22 held a press conference to champion the district’s offer of a “historic” raise for its teachers. Educators rated as “highly effective” — 90% of OCPS teachers — would enjoy a 9.7% increase retroactive to the beginning of the 2023-24 school year.

But that same day, the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, the union representing Orange County teachers, responded to Vazquez’s announcement with one of its own, titled “OCPS demands a 64% health insurance premium hike from teachers after rejecting magistrate’s recommendation.”

“OCPS has been unmovable in demanding steep premium and plan design increases to teachers’ health insurance — seeking to impose an overall health insurance rate hike of over 60%,” OCCTA officials wrote in the statement.

“Too often, public officials shower praise upon teachers but don’t support these dedicated educators when it comes to critical issues,” OCCTA President Clinton McCracken said. “Teachers are looking for the School Board to do the right thing and not sneak in an enormous health insurance increase on the very last day of a contract.”

And on social media, dozens of teachers showed their support of the union’s response. Some even shared details on how the health insurance hike would affect their lives. 

Here is the reality behind those claims.

The overall increase ranges from $3,775 to $7,950 per teacher (depending on rating), with the average increase being $5,400 annually. And, if approved by a majority of teachers, the increase would be retroactive to the beginning of the 2023-24 school year.

This is the largest pay increase ever offered by Orange County Public Schools.

This latest raise follows the one ratified for the 2022-23 school year. In that agreement, all teachers received a cost-of-living increase of $900. In addition, teachers rated as “highly effective” received a $2,425 increase; those rated “effective” received a $1,800 increase.

The starting salary for teachers also increased from $47,500 to $48,400; and for school psychologists from $56,250 to $57,150. 

Moreover, the Advanced Degree supplement increased from $3,342 to $3,405 for master’s degrees; $5,127 to $5,224 for specialist degrees; and $6,760 to $6,888 for doctoral degrees.

OCPS is 100% self-insured, which means the district is responsible for paying all claims. The district has not increased insurance rates in four years. To make that possible, it contributed an additional $100 million to the Employee Benefits Trust to ensure plan solvency without increasing the cost to employees, OCPS Chief Financial Officer Doreen Concolino wrote in an email to McCracken.

By comparison, nonprofit health policy research organization Kaiser Family Foundation reported the average health insurance premiums for both single coverage and family coverage increased 22% since 2018 and 47% since 2013.

OCPS offers employees four different health-insurance plans — A, B, C and D.

According to Concolino, OCCTA-member teachers overwhelmingly (93.3%) enroll in either Plan A or Plan C.

Here is the breakdown of the proposed increase for current employees enrolled in those two plans:

The OCCTA maintains OCPS’ health insurance proposal would increase the cost for educators by an average of 64%.

“During the 2023-24 plan year, CTA-represented educators will collectively pay about $13.6 million for health insurance coverage,” McCracken wrote to the Orange County School Board in an Oct. 18, 2023, email. “That includes educators in all coverage tiers— employee only, employee plus children, employee plus spouse, and employee plus family. Under OCPS’s proposal, CTA-represented employees would pay $22.3 million for health insurance coverage starting in the 2024-25 plan year (which increases in subsequent years). That’s an increase of $8.7 million hoisted on educators already struggling to make ends meet. If you’re doing the math, an $8.7 million increase on top of $13.6 million represents an increase of 64%.”

However, Concolino disputes that interpretation of the numbers.

“A 64% increase does not represent the average cost increase for employees,” she said. “In fact, 7,245 CTA health plan members — or 61.2% — are enrolled in employee-only coverage. Depending on plan selection, employee share of the health cost increase will be 30% or $545 on Plan A, 34% or $647 on Plans B and C, and 0% increase on Plan D. It is worth noting that the district will pay 90% to 100% of current employee health care costs.”

In Plans A and C, the largest proposed dollar increase is for Plan C Employee + Family coverage — $2,709. OCPS’ proposed pay increase ranges from $3,775 to $7,950.

Furthermore, the raise would be retroactive to the beginning of the 2023-24 school year, while the increase in health insurance would not begin until September 2024.

Finally, OCPS employees still have the option to choose an employee-only no-cost plan under Plan D.

See a comparison with nearby school districts' health insurance rates

OCCTA member teachers took to social media to share how the proposed health insurance increases would affect them.

“As a single mom living on only my OCPS paycheck, my insurance on Plan A will go up 97%!” one teacher wrote.

Currently, that teacher is paying $704 annually for insurance for both her and her children. Under the proposed plan, that would increase to $1,387 annually. That represents an increase of $683, or $26.27 per paycheck, if the contract is prorated for 12 months.

“My insurance would be going up by 123%,” another wrote. “While you don’t believe that is astronomical to do in one year, I do.”

Another teacher wrote: “Approximately 11.5% of my raise would be eaten up by the 123% increase to my health insurance. In fact, that health insurance increase is over half of my 2% (Cost-of-Living Adjustment) increase. You need to do better by your employees. This math isn’t mathing.”

Plan B Employee rates would increase 123% — from $525 to $1,172 — or $647 annually. That’s $24.88 per paycheck if the contract is prorated for 12 months.

“Thirty-two percent insurance cost increase for teachers with families (Plan A) is ridiculous,” another teacher wrote.

That increase is from $4,227 to $5,596 annually, or $1,369. This is $52.65 per paycheck if the contract is prorated for 12 months.

By comparison, according to KFF, the average annual health insurance premiums in 2023 are $8,435 for single coverage and $23,968 for family coverage. That’s $324.42 per biweekly paycheck for single coverage and $921.85 per biweekly paycheck for family coverage.

Both OCPS and the OCCTA are scheduled to present their arguments to the Orange County School Board at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 5, before the board renders its decision.

OCCTA officials are not happy with the time of the meeting, which likely prevents teachers from attending in person because they should be in their classrooms.

"Last night, Orange County School Board Members Teresa Jacobs, Pam Gould, Maria Salamanca, Alicia Farrant, Vicki-Elaine Felder and Melissa Byrd rejected teachers and their union’s request to include educators in the public hearing where the fate of their health insurance will be decided," OCCTA officials said in a prepared statement. "Educators’ appeals were ignored when the hearing was scheduled for March 5 at 9:30 a.m., a time where teachers are in schools educating our students."

"The School Board is sending a loud message that it has shut out the voices of hard-working teachers who want to be part of the process and who are going to be severely impacted by its decision on insurance costs," McCracken said.

However, OCPS Media Relations Administrator Michael Ollendorff said the impasse hearing will not have a public comment section during the proceedings.

"As such there will not be any opportunity for staff to be an active participant in the process," he said.

Instead, School Board members have asked for teachers to submit questions via email so they can ask them during the hearing, Ollendorff said.

The meeting will be live-streamed on the Orange County School Board's YouTube channel and also will be posted to the that page at its conclusion.



Michael Eng

As a child, Editor and Publisher Michael Eng collected front pages of the Kansas City Star during Operation Desert Storm, so it was a foregone conclusion that he would pursue a career in journalism. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Missouri — Columbia School of Journalism. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his wife and three children, or playing drums around town. He’s also a sucker for dad jokes.

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