Questions emerged Wednesday about the affordability of the Utica City School District teachers’ contract, which adds retirement health benefits not seen in the district for 30 years.
The school district has not yet worked up an estimate of just how much those retiree benefits will cost, school district Business Official Maureen Albanese said Wednesday.
She predicted the district will be able to afford the additional expenses through new health benefit premiums that teachers will have to pay.
“We’re anticipating that most of the increase will be covered by what we’re putting aside now,” Albanese said. But, she added, “We won’t know how much it will cost until later this year.”
The Board of Education unanimously approved the contract Tuesday night before any members of the public had a chance to see and review it. School administrators had resisted calls to make the contract public before the board vote.
Utica resident Bob Kelly attended Tuesday night’s meeting and said the district chose the wrong time to add health benefits for retirees.
“Ten years from now, the district could have over 1,000 people they have to pay health benefits for,” Kelly said. “That could easily cost $10,000 each. … Who’s going to pay for it? Why such a rich contract in such a poor city when the economy is the way it is?”
The benefits of the new contract are in line with what most districts in the state provide teachers, according to a New York State School Boards Association survey completed last spring.
The survey showed that 96 percent of school districts across the state already provided retiree health benefits. Utica is now joining them.
Lise Bang-Jensen, senior policy analyst with the Empire Center for Public Policy, said the district’s contract has the potential to be “extremely expensive.”
She said she has seen many districts end up paying more in health benefits for retirees than for active employees.
“The district is doing the responsible thing in putting aside money for this for the future,” Bang-Jensen said. “But they’re not putting enough aside.”