Thursday, September 23, 2004

No classes Monday in Kenton

District's teacher join walkout over insurance

By Karen Gutierrez
Enquirer staff writer

At least 32,000 Northern Kentucky students will be off school next Monday for a teacher protest over health insurance.

Kenton County on Wednesday became the third district to cancel classes. Covington and Boone County already have done so. The Erlanger-Elsmere School Board is expected tonight to approve closure.

Eight other districts in Northern Kentucky, representing about 9,355 students, have said they will hold classes, but some are planning protests or rallies after school.

Monday has been designated for a statewide walkout by the Kentucky Education Association, which lobbies for teachers' interests and has members in local districts.

Public employees in Kentucky can be held in contempt of court for striking. To avoid that, teachers have been encouraged to take a personal day off on Monday or ask their districts to release them.

At issue is next year's health insurance plan covering all state workers, including 98,000 school district employees.

Monthly premiums for state workers are going up an average of 7 percent, and employees will pay thousands of dollars more in out-of-pocket expenses.

For instance, a non-smoking Kentucky teacher who earns between $36,000 and $44,000 would pay about $490 a month for family coverage under one plan. Maximum out-of-pocket expenses for a year would be $4,000, compared to $2,500 this year.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher has said he made the changes to avoid 25 percent increases in premiums. But in the face of teacher protests, he has called a special session of the General Assembly to address the problem. It will begin Oct. 5.

Here's what a sampling of Northern Kentucky parents had to say about Monday's walkout:

• "I'm from Appalachia, which has a history of unionization and challenges to corporate employers, so this is central to what I stand for. Obviously, I'm concerned about school being out, and I really don't believe the governor had much choice in raising health costs for faculty.

"But making statements as an organized group is the best way to bring about change, I believe." - Roberta Campbell, parent, Two Rivers Middle School, Covington

• "Why don't these teachers protest on their early release days or times that will not impact the students and the student's families?

"All companies are cutting back on employee's health benefits or raising premiums, so this should not be a shock to the teachers....If they want to voice their opinion, they need to vote in November for the candidate they feel will do something about medical insurance and lawsuits for medical malpractice." - Karen Henderson, parent, Campbell County school system.

• "If you look at the teacher's (health insurance) increase, it really is not that much compared to the rest of corporate America that has been hit with 37 percent increases each year. But maybe if this "walk out" catches on throughout the state, or even the country, big government will have to take notice and know that the rising costs of health coverage is not acceptable." - Dianne Taylor, parent, Erpenbeck Elementary School.

• "The governor has called for a special session to address this issue, and it is my sincere desire that partisan politics be put aside and real leadership takes place to resolve this issue." - Phil Wiseman, parent, Kenton County schools.

• "I was actually very upset that the governor would increase health insurance costs that much for school workers. Our teachers, at least in the Campbell County school system, are on the low end of the pay scale already." - Terry Wolf, parent, Campbell County school system.


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