Hundreds of people packed into a room at the MPS Administration building Tuesday night, as Milwaukee Public School Board members held their first discussions on next year’s budget. The district faces a $38 million deficit.
Superintendent Darienne Driver has proposed increasing employee health care contributions and raising co-pays for doctor visits as one way to save money. Emotions ran high, as scores of teachers and faculty members opposed the ideas.
The crowd spilled out into the hallway and into an overflow room. Driver, who will be leaving the district in July for a job in Michigan, laid out the proposed changes in employee health care plans. They include dropping coverage for spouses who have insurance through their employers.
“The second proposed change would be to increase co-pays for primary care physicians, specialist visits, emergency room and urgent care. Third, to increase employee contributions for EPOs, which are exclusive provider organizations and PPOs which are preferred provider organizations, medical plans,” Driver said.
An analysis shows some employees would have to make higher contributions to the tune of 19 percent. Driver said the changes would save the district $17 million a year.
A steady stream of opponents then stepped up to the mic. Kathy Geiger urged the committee to vote no to the benefit increases. She said many teachers are burnt out and experiencing health problems.
“If you really want to lower the health care costs, give teachers back their time, reduce their stress,” Geiger said.
Another person worried about his future is Coghill Elementary school teacher Patrick Kenny. He said he would struggle to make ends meet under the benefit cuts.
“Enough is enough. You need to pay us and you need to give us benefits. We know that teachers are the most important, so why are we the first to be cut. I won’t be able to live. I want to have a kid, I want to have a family, I can’t afford a ring for my girlfriend,” he said.
Board member Terry Falk said he taught in MPS for more than 30 years and he understands the struggles teachers face. But, he said if the district doesn’t make drastic cuts, budget shortfalls will grow.
“This year we have a $38 million deficit that we have to bridge. Next year, we will have a $78 million deficit. In 2020, $149 million deficit and in ’23, a $177 million deficit. We will be bankrupt in about a year and a half,” Falk said.
Other proposed money saving measures include eliminating bus service for 1,000 students and locating near-site health clinics for employees. Superintendent Driver is expected to deliver her budget address to the board later this month.
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