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Don't cuts in our insurance plan violate our continuing contract rights?

Teachers in my county are paying increased premiums for group health insurance that offers less coverage. Years ago, we went without salary increases so the school employer would continue paying the full premium for the employees' individual health insurance. Since then, the school division has frozen its contribution for health insurance premiums at less than the cost of individual coverage. Don't these cuts violate our "continuing contract" rights?

VEA and local Associations are working very hard to increase employee pay and maintain well-deserved benefits such as group health insurance.

School employees across the state share your experience that while the cost of health insurance coverage goes up, the scope of the coverage goes down, and employers often do not match the increase in premiums. As a result, hard-won increases in teacher salary may not offset the rising expense of insuring yourself and your family. The erosion of benefits hurts employees and also students, because poor salary and benefits lead to increased job turnover.

Still, I don't believe that the "continuing contract" protections for teachers offer any legal cause of action. Continuing contract status protects employment as a teacher, but it does not protect salary or benefits. The second paragraph under D of Virginia Code section 22.1-304 provides, "Nothing in the continuing contract shall be construed to authorize the school board to contract for any financial obligation beyond the period for which funds have been made available with which to meet such obligation." Every fiscal year the county board of supervisors appropriates funds to the school board, and the school board contracts with employees for salary and benefits for that year. Even if teachers agreed to a specific arrangement forgoing salary increases in exchange for employer-paid individual health insurance coverage one year, the school board can and must revisit the matter each year after that.

What, then, are our options? In a state without a bargaining law, it's especially important for members to collectively push for professional pay and benefits each year in each locality. Join with your local Association compensation team to advocate for adequate benefits with your school board. Take part in VEAs campaigns for boosting teacher salaries and school funding, because success at the state level will preserve money for benefits locally. For additional assistance organizing a campaign for better salary and benefits, contact your VEA/NEA UniServ Director or the Membership division of VEA at 800-552-9554.


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