opinion by Maylon Rice
Editor’s note: Maylon Rice is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several newspapers over the past 40 years. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.
Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
Ask yourself this question: “Are Arkansas school teachers state employees?”
Now ask the next five people you meet that same question? Are your informal survey(s) as split evenly as mine?
I’ll wager they are, unless you are in the midst of a group of teachers or a group of fiercely loyal school district patrons across this state who seem doomed to keep their heads in the sand believing that the state should leave local districts alone.
Over the last few months, while this catastrophic calamity of rising public school teacher health insurance premiums was played out across the state – local teachers suddenly became, once again, wards of the state.
Few, if any local school districts, even commented on the rising premiums despite the fact that local school district boards hire, fire and discipline these individual teachers they employ.
The state, on the other hand, does certify these teachers to be hired by the local school boards. The state also places restrictions, demands, laws, rules and regulations that each of these teachers (and their employing school district administration and locally elected boards) must follow.
The state ensures that by law, at least 25 mills of local tax payer support go towards the operation and maintenance of every school.
But let’s stay focused on the issue at hand – public school teacher insurance premiums.
The state will bail out the failing state teacher health insurance fund. Actuaries will tell the state that this bail out will “soften” the impact of rising premiums, but will NOT protect this small group from future increases.
Gov. Mike Beebe has repeated that the actuaries told the state there are not enough people in the insurance pool to protect the others in the small group from future increases.
But here we have a recently concluded special session of the Arkansas Legislature – to address a problem that Arkansas lawmakers have known for years – that resulted in millions of dollars’ worth of quick fixes.
Most teachers, if married to a spouse who works outside the school district – do not subscribe to the school teacher insurance program. These teachers uses their spouses insurance program even, many say, if it is an inferior plan.
Other teachers have the “option” from the local school district to not take the insurance for more salary money. (Always take the money, they are told, as the school district administrators try to deflect people from taking the health insurance plan.) School districts have received some direct funding from the state to supplement this insurance plan, because those districts said it was a loss for them to offer the program.
Are teachers really state employees?
Oh, yeah, and one last question. Isn’t it about time Arkansas lawmakers bite the bullet and combine ALL state employees under one – uniform – health coverage program? Wouldn’t that be nice?
Wouldn’t it be cheaper on all of us taxpaying citizens in Arkansas?
And wouldn’t it be better for ALL state employees to be on equal health insurance footing if they work for any phase of the state government?
If you say teachers are not a state employee, then it is time for the local districts to figure out how to take this burden off the state and shoulder it themselves.