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Single Health Insurance Plan Pushed by City Control Board

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – With the Buffalo School District and its teachers union locked in a contentious battle over the issue of a single health insurance provider, the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority is trying to clear the air. The control board spent a good portion of Wednesday's meeting outlining how the plan would save the district from fiscal disaster.

The control board is warning that without a single health plan, rising health care costs could push the school district into insolvency.

"Resolving this issue is essential to getting teachers back into the classroom this year, and unavoidable if we are going to save the financial future of the district," said control board chairman Brian Lipke.

District employee unions are in arbitration against school administrators, saying they did not have a say in switching to a single health plan. The Buffalo Teachers Federation believes members will not receive the same benefits if they change health plans. But board executive director Dorothy Johnson says they have a signed affidavit from an independent arbitrator guaranteeing duplication of employee benefits.

BTF President Phil Rumore, who remains at an impasse in contract talks with the district, says he wants to see that paper work. The union is also examining other health carriers.

"With all due respect to Blue Cross Blue Shield I would like to see the plans in writing," Rumore said. "Blue Cross has supplied that, but we have not gotten any information from Univera Health"

Rumore says all the district's unions are fighting the health plan, not just the teachers union. On Tuesday, Rumore walked out of a City Hall meeting after Schools Superintendent James Williams called him a liar. But Williams makes no apologies to Rumore. He says he only apologizes to the students of the district for a failure to educate them.

"I'm not talking any more about yesterday," Williams said. "I'm talking about today because I have 114 employees who will lose their jobs at the end of the day."

Those layoffs went into effect Wednesday, and as of today (Thursday), with or without the unions approval, all district employees have been switched to a single health provider.