Teachers' union criticizes Downers Grove District 58 board for failing to replenish medical reserve fund

Bill White, a Downers Grove Elementary Education Association executive board member, makes a point July 9 while addressing the Downers Grove Grade School District 58 Board of Education.[]

DOWNERS GROVE – For the second month in a row, teachers packed the Downers Grove Grade School District 58 Board of Education's July 9 meeting as the teachers’ union and district continue to negotiate a new contract.

Clad in red T-shirts, members of the Downers Grove Elementary Education Association filled most of the seats in the Downers Grove Village Council chambers for the two-hour meeting. Unlike last month, however, only one teacher addressed the board.

Mark White, a member of the union’s executive board, read a lengthy statement criticizing the board for transferring money from the district’s medical reserve fund but not reimbursing the account.

District 58 is self-insured, and the medical reserve fund is used to pay claims, said White, a fifth-grade teacher at Henry Puffer School.

The transfer of funds and increases in health insurance premiums over the past few years have led union members to contend they are disrespected by the district and school board.

“The DGEEA has asked on many occasions about when funds would be transferred back to the MRF,” White said. “The answer was always that the board had no obligation to do so. That is false. Regulation 3125 allows you to transfer money from the MRF when there is a surplus. However, it also requires that if the MRF falls below a predetermined level you will transfer money in the the MRF from the education fund or the O and M [operations and maintenance] fund.”

White added the district "publicly misrepresented" what the regulation says.

"They claim that 3125 only requires them to contemplate adding funds back into the MRF," he said. "This is not what 3125 says, and not one board member challenged that assertion by the administration. Why?"

Board President Doug Purcell said medical claims would be paid even if the fund did not have a balance.

Superintendent Kari Cremascoli said in a July 10 email that the district keeps a close eye on its medical reserve fund balance.

"The medical reserve fund balance is reviewed and discussed at financial advisory committee (FAC) meetings at least annually," Cremascoli said. "The medical reserve fund balances relative to projected claims for the upcoming school year will again be reviewed at the FAC meeting this July."

She added the balance and expected claims for the 2018-19 school year will be reviewed "with consideration of a transfer to stabilize these declining fund balances in light of medical and prescription drug cost claims that are rising more rapidly than CPI and premium contributions."

Cremascoli did not respond to White's claims the district was required to replenish the medical reserve fund.

The union and district have not had a contract negotiation session for the past month, union President Craig Young said. He said the two sides are not at a stalemate. Rather, they've been unable to schedule a bargaining session.

Meanwhile, the board voted 5-1 to approve 3-percent salary increases for administrators, non-union technical support staff and non-union support personnel.

Board member Greg Harris cast the lone vote against the increases, saying they should not be voted on while teacher contract negotiations are ongoing.