Dozens of retired school employees, union officials, and custodians – some of whom already have been laid-off – gathered outside Hartford Schools Superintendent Steven Adamowski’s downtown apartment building Tuesday to protest staff cuts and an increase in the cost of retiree health benefits.
Holding signs with slogans such as “Adamowski, radical change or ruthless?” and “We pay, but have no say,” the protesters paraded along the sidewalk in front of Hartford 21, the new luxury apartment building above the Hartford Civic Center.
It’s unclear exactly how many employees have been laid-off, and on Tuesday morning schools spokesman David Medina could only give an estimate, saying about 75 employees were projected to be laid-off in May. As for increasing the cost of health benefits for retired school employees, he said half the retirees are teachers who have the option of joining the state health insurance plan.
“It’s unfortunate about the others,” he said, adding that it would cost $450,000 a month for the school district to provide health benefits for the others, which would mean cutting educational programs.
Medina said he didn’t know what the protesters expected to accomplish Tuesday, since the school district’s financial status has not changed since their last protest.
Leo Canty, second vice president of AFT-CT (one of the teachers unions serving Hartford), called Medina’s statements “curious.”
“They did their damage and now they think it’s over,” Canty said. “It’s not over until the children are served properly.
“There are a lot of locations left,” Canty added, alluding to plans for more protests in front of the homes of other local officials.
June Pinkin, president of the Hartford Federation of Retired Teachers, said she still has not received answers to her questions regarding the calculation of retiree benefits, the costs for which have doubled and tripled for many retirees. She said retirees would be willing to pay a little more and take a reduction in benefits, but not one that’s this extreme.
Pinkin said she believes the city broke its agreement by placing retirees in a separate insurance pool. She said the city separated the pool of current employees from retirees, increasing costs for older retirees who pose a higher risk to insurance companies.
Mayor Eddie Perez’s spokeswoman Sarah Barr, said in a June 25 email that “No one is being segregated.”
Pinkin said she can’t prove it yet, but the document she believes may provide answers is now the subject of a Freedom of Information complaint because the city has refused to hand it over.
Pinkin said some retirees would have to give up Medicare benefits if they joined the second plan offered by the school district through Aetna. She said that all the retirees want is a good Medicare supplemental plan.
City Council minority leader Larry Deutsch, who helped negotiate a 60-day moratorium for city retirees, said the council’s 8 to 0 vote in favor of the moratorium was important on many levels. He said the resolution included language that said the mayor would have to bring the retiree health insurance plan back to the council for approval.
It was the first time under the strong mayor system that the council acted to counterbalance the mayor’s executive power, Deutsch said.
Mayor Eddie Perez said Tuesday morning that the city is looking back over its health benefit plans and expects to have something ready to offer the retirees by next week. Perez said he was the one who asked for the 60-day moratorium to make ensure the plan worked.
He said this problem isn’t going to be solved in one year. “This is a two or three year problem,” he said.
But for Mark Blumenthal, president of AFSCME Local 566, which represents district custodians, the problem is more immediate.
Blumenthal said that of the 31 custodians laid off, 24 live in Hartford. “Thirty-one families are now jobless,” he said.
Stanley Shepard, one of the custodians whose job was cut, said the school district has hired a substitute to do his job without health benefits.
Andrea Johnson, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, said the school district cut about 24 certified teachers, many of whom worked with special education students. She said dozens of teachers still on the district’s payroll are on a “to be placed” list, meaning that just 20 days before classes begin, they have yet to assigned to a school.
Further, Johnson said that the school district has hired a special education assistant director to work at the central office at “the expense of 14 teachers” who work with the children on a daily basis.
“The meat and potatoes are the folks in the schools,” Johnson said.