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Ala. Board Suggests Teachers Pay More for Benefits

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Teachers and other education employees could have to pay more for their retirement and health insurance benefits under a financial plan proposed Thursday by the Alabama Board of Education.

The board voted unanimously for what state Superintendent of Education Joe Morton called "a plan of survival" after two years of budget cuts and what looks like more lean funding for the 2010-2011 school year.

The board recommended to the governor that:

• the percentage of the state education budget that goes for K-12 schools be increased by slightly more than 1 percentage point.

• education employees start paying 6 percent of their salary toward retirement rather than 5 percent.

• the state education budget provide no increase for health insurance and retirement benefits for the next school year.

The plan would force the health insurance program to cut benefits or raise the amount that educators pay. Any changes would require the approval of the governor and the Legislature.

Gov. Bob Riley's press secretary, Todd Stacy, said the governor was reviewing the proposals and would comment later.

Mary Bruce Ogles, assistant executive secretary at the Alabama Education Association, said requiring educators to pay more for retirement and possibly health insurance would amount to a pay cut for teachers, who didn't receive a cost-of-living raise this year or last year.

Morton said educators have been paying $2 per month for their state's health insurance coverage since 1986, far less than what workers pay in other public and private health insurance plans.

Morton said maintaining benefits at their current level will require an extra $238 million for health insurance in the 2010-2011 school year and $57 million more for retirement.

With the recession shrinking Alabama's tax collections, that kind of money won't be available, he said. Morton said the only way to maintain benefits without charging educators more is to cut classroom programs.

"We are in dire straits," he said.

When the board next meets on Dec. 10 it will discuss whether to ask the Legislature to increase the time necessary for retirement from 25 years to 30 years for education employees hired after July 1, 2010.

Ogles said AEA opposes that change because any savings would be many years in the future.

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