Harford teachers want to protect health benefits, union head says

Harford County teachers want their salaries to begin moving higher after several years of stagnation, but not at the expense of the health care benefits they receive, the head of their union said earlier this week.

Harford County Education Association President Ryan Burbey gave a presentation about the health care benefits provided to Harford County Public Schools employees during Monday night's board of education meeting in Bel Air.

"You surely don't want to have employees who cannot afford to go to the doctor, or cannot afford to have a quality doctor," Burbey said to the board. "To your credit, you provide a health care package, several of them, that do afford that to your employees."

Because of changes in health care mandates and costs over the last few years, Burbey continued, "my members are very reluctant to do anything with health care."

Teachers and other school employee unions are in contract negotiations with the school system. Burbey has frequently talked about the need for salaries to increase going forward, but he did so with a note of caution Monday.

"Also, because of the salary situation that happened over the course of three years, again, members are very reluctant to negotiate out something that is guaranteed versus something that has been at the whim of funding," Burbey said. "It just doesn't make sense."

He was referring to instances in the past when the teachers and other unions have negotiated raises with the school system, only to see the county government decline to provide the additional money needed to fund them.

Burbey urged the school board to look at employee health care as a "more of a trust-building relationship."

"When we can't trust each other or perceive that we can trust each other, it creates an adversarial climate," Burbey said, adding that during the past few months since he became president of the union, he believes there has been a much greater level of cooperation than in the past.

CareFirst health screening

It was also announced during Monday's school board meeting that Harford County Public Schools will offer all CareFirst insured employees an opportunity to participate in a free health risk assessment.

The assessment provides a snapshot of the current health status and helps assess the likelihood of developing conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, according to information from the school system. In addition to the assessment, online tools and resources are made available to help employees make lifestyle changes that can potentially decrease the risk for serious health conditions.

The program will be possible through a recommendation by the HCPS Benefits Advisory Committee and a $75,000 grant awarded to HCPS by CareFirst and will be free to employees, according to the school system. Data compiled in the program will not be shared with the school administration but will be used by the insurer in tailoring future benefits programs and services.

At the end of February, CareFirst will also offer free biometric screenings for all CareFirst insured employees. The screening includes blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol and body mass index.

Youth's Benefit parents speak

During the public comment portion of Monday's school board meeting, two members of the Youth's Benefit Elementary School PTA spoke about the need for a new building for the Fallston school.

Laura Runyeon, the PTA president, mentioned various issues with the current building including sporadic heating and air conditioning, water build-up in the ceiling and lead contamination in the school's plumbing.

"The last 16 years have not been kind to this facility," Runyeon told the board. "We just can't keep it Band-aided much longer."

Another parent, Krissy Flatau, repeated Runyeon's concerns, mentioning an incident in which a light fixture fell from the ceiling in front of her fourth-grade son while he was using a school restroom.

"Ultimately, we need a new building, but a school can't be built in two weeks," Flatau said. "What can be done now?"

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