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LOW HANGING FRUIT

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 You'll likely be seeing more stories like this... now that local districts are free to make decisions in the best interests of the taxpayers and their employees rather than the union. The sweet deals for WEA Trust are among the best examples. 

In freeing school boards from bargaining with employees over anything but inflation-capped wage increases, Wisconsin lawmakers might have opened the floodgates for districts seeking to drop coverage by the state's dominant - and highly controversial - health insurance provider for teachers.

WEA Trust, the nonprofit company started 40 years ago by the state's largest teachers union, currently insures employees in about two-thirds of Wisconsin school districts. The company's market dominance has dropped in recent years, although not as much as some school officials who complain about the company's costs would like.

After switching the district's nonunion employees to a different health insurance carrier, Cedarburg School Board President Kevin Kennedy said his school system is likely to look at cost savings by doing the same for its unionized teachers after unsuccessful attempts in previous years.

"It's such a large-ticket item; it's such low-hanging fruit," he said. "You can lay off an aide or increase your student fees, but that doesn't make up such a magnitude of saving as insurance does."

The survival of WEA Trust's health insurance corporation will depend on its ability to compete with other providers that have more pricing flexibility and a greater range of services, said Dale Thoma, managing partner for insurance broker Willis of Wisconsin Inc. Until now, the insurer was negotiated into contracts by adamant union leaders.

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