The controversial state law that eliminated most collective bargaining rights for school employees reduced benefit costs for the Whitnall School District by $164,468 last school year, according to a report released earlier this month.
The chunk of Whitnall's savings came from reductions in the district's share of employee retirement costs, the report by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance said. In the 2010-11 school year, Whitnall paid $713,028 toward pension costs for workers; in 2011-12, that dropped to about $639,570, the report said.
The district also saved more than $90,000 in health insurance costs, according to the report, which was based on data that public school districts provide to the state Department of Public Instruction. In 2010-11, Whitnall spent nearly $4 million on health care costs; that fell to $3.9 million last school year.
Whitnall business manager Doug Johnson could not be reached for comment, but Superintendent Lowell Holtz said he believed the figures were accurate.
"We were able to recognize savings in health insurance, and the changes with Act 10 have us just paying the employer share for retirement," Holtz said. "In the past, we paid both employer and employee."
Report: No savings for Greenfield
While many districts did experience savings, the School District of Greenfield did not—at least according to the report.
Greenfield paid an additional $195,775 in 2011-12 compared to 2010-11, the report said, a figure Kristin Kollath, the district's business manager, refuted.
According to the report, Greenfield saw a 22.6 percent increase in health insurance costs, paying out $7.1 million in 2011-12 compared to $5.8 million in 2010-11. The district did see a massive savings in the employees' share of their pension contributions, dropping from nearly $1.2 million in 2010-11 to just $68,600 last year, the report said.
Kollath said she's not sure where the report received its numbers. She said the employee pension contribution figures were close — the district paid out $74,417 in employee pension contributions in 2011-12 — but said there were discrepancies in the health insurance numbers.
Kollath said the district paid $6,134,664 in health insurance costs in 2010-11 and $5,457,517 in 2011-12, a savings of nearly $680,000. That combined with the savings in employee pension contributions resulted in a total $1.8 million in savings for Greenfield.
"One thing that is important to remember is that we 'self fund' our health insurance, meaning that we pay all actual medical bills rather than pay a premium to an insurance company," Kollath wrote in an email. "So, fluctuations in our health insurance expenditures are not always due to changes in premium contribution or plan design – they could be due to actual claims experience."
Under old contracts between teacher unions and districts, many school districts paid the employee shares on behalf of the employees; that is no longer the case resulting in savings for districts across the state.
$366 million saved statewide
School districts across the state reduced benefit costs by $366 million this year, according to the report, which the organization says is the first in-depth look at the effect of Act 10 and the 2011-13 state budget on Wisconsin schools.
Most of the statewide savings come from districts no longer paying the employee share of retirement, the group said.
Of $366.3 million in reduced benefit costs, $240.7 million — or 66 percent — was from retirement contribution savings. Before passage of the 2011-13 state budget, most school districts and other governmental entities paid both the employee and employer share of retirement costs. Now public workers are required to pay the employee portion of retirement.
Because employees can no longer bargain over benefits under Act 10, many school districts increased health insurance co-payments, required higher cost sharing by employees or changed health insurance providers to reduce costs.
In 2012, public school health insurance costs fell $90.7 million, or 24.8%, from 2011 levels, the group said.
Other highlights of the report:
- Total school district spending dropped $584 million in 2011-12, with 63 percent of that coming from benefit savings.
- Lower salary costs saved districts $124.9 million, while other cost-cutting totaled $93.1 million.
- Reduced salary costs were due to a combination of staff retirements and layoffs. In 2011-12, school districts employed 2,312 fewer staff than in 2010-11, a 2.3 percent reduction.
Report called GOP 'propaganda'
The report was not without some controversy, however.
Soon after it was released, a group called One Wisconsin Now blasted it as "propaganda" to help Gov. Scott Walker as he "prepares to put Wisconsin’s children and public schools further in the hole by shifting resources to planned tax cuts to benefit the rich and corporations."
“Predictably, as Scott Walker begins making the case to hand out huge tax breaks to the rich and corporations, the corporate front group WISTAX tosses out propaganda to support his case,” said Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now. “The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance is even more Republican than Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, so this is hardly a surprise and their 'findings' should be taken with a grain of salt as big as Scott Walker's campaign finance report."
One Wisconsin Now said its review of campaign contributions made by board members of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance showed that 92 percent of the $1.4 million in donations went to Republicans.