Strange Attacks From the NJEA and MEA on Employee Benefits in Montclair Schools

There’s been a lot of misinformation swirling about as it pertains to the budget, and we’ve been doing our best to correct the record when false claims are made.

In the midst of this, some comments made during the March 2nd meeting stuck out to us. During the public comments portion of the March 2nd meeting, one of our community members criticized the board for including healthcare coverage figures for paraprofessionals in the budget when, obviously, the cheaper option for the district is to just pay the penalties.

It’s a true fact – paying a penalty for each of the 119 paraprofessionals going on the federal exchange program is penalty cheaper. But it’s a bit strange to hear it suggested that that’s how the district treat its employees.

And it’s doubly strange the the source of the comment was Luis Delgado, a UniServ Field Representative for NJEA. We assume, given his role, that he was speaking on behalf of his employer or at least expressing views consistent with their’s. And since his employer, the NJEA, represents the MEA on these issues, we assume he was speaking for them as well.

Here’s Delgado’s speech from the other night. Unfortunately, Delgado’s impassioned speech was cut off at the end, but the point comes across…

Delgado: “Before I get into my comments I just wanted to verify something with Mr. Fleischer in that the 119 paraprofessionals who don’t receive health benefits, the district would incur a cost of close to $400,000, taken into account their contribution.”

Fleischer: “Yeah a little over $400,000.”

Delgado: “Right. And that’s to purchase health benefits on their behalf”

Fleischer: Right.

Delgado: “Okay. Right. That’s a good premise for my comments. There’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. And one of those is the employer mandate. Did you know, as I suppose you don’t since no one has made comment, that you are under no obligation to purchase health insurance? That’s not what the law says! The law says you have to offer access. Access to affordable health care and based on Mr. Fleischer’s numbers of around $400,000, I’m thinking that 119 paraprofessionals… that’s pretty affordable. Taken into account that affordable, under the law, means 9.5% of household income. I know paraprofessionals don’t make a lot of money, but if you take into account household income, you have satisfied the employee mandate by offering them access to PURCHASE health benefits. HOW did that number wind up in your budget? You pay legal counsel to get good information, you need to go to them! To understand that there’s no way that this should be in your budget! Now, do you face a liability? Yes, you do. Ms. Larson pointed to it. It’s the $3,000 penalty should one of those paraprofessionals go on the federal exchange, purchase health insurance and receive a tax credit. But you just told me that’s not what that figure represents. So you put a figure in the budget saying that this is the board’s liability that has no basis in fact. None. And I’m a little annoyed because, you know, it’s a big budget hole. Perhaps this was an error. But it goes even deeper. You have to do your due diligence, all of you. I know you’ve been here late and I understand you’re tired. But do your due diligence. If a paraprofessional works…”

As far as we can tell, Delgado – and we guess, by default, the NJEA and MEA – is attacking Fleischer for projecting budget costs that include actually providing healthcare to para-professionals through the district, rather than putting them out on the open market.

The cost Fleischer presented was $422,500. If, as Delgado suggested, they instead elected to pay penalties for each para that did buy coverage, the liability for the district would be as much as $357,000 (assuming he’s right that it’s $3,000 x 119), potentially saving the district $65,500. Out of a total budget of $117 million, that’s about 0.05% that he was screaming at Fleischer and insulting his judgment over.

Fleischer proposed that health insurance would run $476,000, with paraprofessionals paying around $53,500 for employee contributions. Each paraprofessional would therefore pay roughly $450 per year for insurance.

Let’s contrast that with Delgado’s strategy for the district to take the Walmart plan and throw its employees onto publically subsidized plans. We’ll use Gayl Shepard’s comments from 2011 estimating the average para’s salary at around $35,000.

In order to get healthcare subsidies, an individual must earn less than 400 percent above the poverty line. Delgado was right in saying paraprofessionals would get health insurance capped at 9.5% of their salaries, but 9.5% of $35,000 is a pretty substantial amount. So by not providing health insurance to the paraprofessionals, each employee would effectively take a 9.5% cut in their salary. That’s a big deal.

If the district decided to go with the MEA/NJEA’s plan, and pay as much as $357,000 in penalties, and if the paraprofessionals are each spending 9.5% of their salary (roughly $3,250 at $35,000) on health insurance, the combined parties are spending as much as $744,000. That seems insane to us.

We doubt the MEA actually opposes the district directly providing health insurance to paras, though they should probably clarify. To us, this reeks of more of the same: an effort by these political activists to do anything they can to undercut the district’s credibility and ability to function – even if it means throwing out make believe budget scenarios that would be damaging to their members, so that they can claim that the district “hasn’t fully considered all the options” and attack Fleischer’s professionalism and credibility. Once again, they’re willing to say and do anything to try and advance their political agenda.

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