My View: Let’s Not Pretend Like Teacher Health Benefits Are Not Subpar

A Dunning column from earlier this week noted with sympathy teachers’ efforts to lobby the district with regard to pay and compensation.

However, he offers: “While my sympathies in this battle lie squarely with the teachers, arguing ‘benefits’ could quickly backfire.”

He continues: “Many folks in the private sector (see photo above) turn green with envy when they see the benefits that public school teachers, city of Davis employees, UC Davis employees and state workers take for granted.  It’s a losing argument.”

I asked him about the comment, and he noted: “Teacher health benefits are certainly below city benefits, and they are absolutely shameful for support staff such as janitors and secretaries.”  But he said that “speaking as one from the private sector who has seen his health care benefits dramatically reduced over the last five years, I think it’s a losing argument. The average teacher receives twice the benefit I do and many in the private sector have no benefits at all.”

I must admit the statement caught me off guard.  As many know, the Vanguard a decade ago was one of the first to report the out-of-control compensation within the city.  We were not shy at reporting six-figure salaries and $150,000-plus average compensation for city employees, particularly firefighters.

But, after spending years pushing for rollbacks of city employee compensation, I was pretty stunned to learn that the school district does not fully fund teacher health insurance.  City employees, even those who make a fairly modest wage, get a nice premium health insurance plan.  State employees like my wife, likewise, have their health insurance fully covered by their employers.

And yet teachers, who get a modest salary to begin with, are paying in some cases large amounts out of pocket for their health insurance.

On Thursday, I sat down with Davis Teachers Association President Dianna Huculak along with fellow teacher Amanda Zimmerman, who is DTA Membership Chair, for a story that will appear in a future Vanguard article.  The Vanguard
has also requested additional information from the district about their health care plans.

But what Ms. Huculak and Ms. Zimmerman told me was quite stunning.

The district offers their health plan through CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System).  “The cheapest one is Kaiser,” Ms. Zimmerman explained.  “What we don’t have is Bronze Plan, Silver Plan, and Gold Plan options.”

Of the cost for the health care plan, the district picks up a portion of that cost.  But both teachers I spoke to were paying close to $400 per month.  Ms. Zimmerman said, “Because in October the health care costs went up, I am now taking home less this year than I did two years ago.”

“There is not a single plan where the district would cover the whole (costs),” Ms. Huculak said.  “No matter what you get, you’re going to be paying.”

“The contribution that the district pays was set in 2008 and has not gone up at all in that time,” Ms. Zimmerman said.

“If you look at surrounding districts, part of it is that they have far more competitive health care packages,” Ms. Huculak added.  “When I worked in Sacramento, my health care was completely paid for.”

“A lot of districts if you take single coverage, you can be covered 100 percent,” Ms. Zimmeran said.

“That is one of the sticker shocks of coming to Davis,” Ms. Huculak said.  “I talk to teachers coming to Davis, they’re like the pay is slightly lower but I can ride my bike to school.”  But when they talk about health insurance costs, she said, “That’s probably something they didn’t consider when they came to work here is because how much less money they’re actually going to get.”

Only about 50 percent of employees take the district’s health care.  Some are taking their spouse’s health care benefits if they are better than what DJUSD provides.  But some are taking health care from Covered California, because, as Ms. Huculak told the Vanguard, overall it is cheaper.

Ms. Zimmerman also noted, “A lot of people will take Single Payer for themselves and then put their family on Covered California.”

But as much as a single teacher has to pay an additional $400 just for health care, it is families that really are burdened by the district’s health care coverage.

“One of my colleagues, she has kids, I think one-third of her paycheck just goes towards paying for health insurance,” she said.

Back in October a teacher told the school board her story.  She explained, “We can’t afford a district health plan.  I’ve had to find the cheapest plan outside the district that works with our doctor.”

She said that she has a $6000 deductible and that if she put her daughter on the district plan, they would have no money left over.

Ms. Zimmerman said, “I’ve heard (the cost for health insurance) can range from $1200 (per month) to $2400, is the most I’ve heard.”

She said, “It’s significant.  One-third of your paycheck or more with your family.”

The teachers acknowledged that health care is of course a problem for many private sector jobs as well.  But all of this is one reason why there has been a several decades-long push for some form of health care insurance, either in the form of the Affordable Care Act or Universal Health Care.

I certainly get Bob Dunning’s point that teachers, while not receiving the same benefits as city employees or state employees, are still getting better benefits than the private sector.  But, on the other hand, if many are paying one-third of their already modest salaries for coverage for their families, why would a young teacher with a family come to Davis in the first place, if other districts offer better health care coverage because they are larger and have access to better plans?

Is it really a losing issue that points out the disadvantage that Davis has in attracting quality and younger teachers?

I don’t see this as a losing issue, in fact, I see this as amplifying the overall point that if we want to maintain the high level of education in our district, we are going to have to figure ways to make sure we offer competitive compensation to our teachers.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Howard P

    Just to get the facts out there…

    A problem arises… single employees (or those who have a spouse who has coverage elsewhere) argue that their coworkers, who have two or more dependents, are “compensated” more than they are… so they demand the employer pay the difference to them in cash. “Equal treatment” (pun unintended).

    I submit that the benefit is the coverage, not the employer’s cost of the coverage.


    1. David Greenwald

      I’m not completely in agreement, the benefit is the extent of the coverage coupled with the defrayed cost for the employee. If the employee is paying less for Covered California, are they really receiving a benefit?

      1. Howard P

        We’ll just need to agree to disagree.

        Coverage is what is needful.  Coverage is the benefit.

        “Cash-out” is BS.  Mistake the City made.

        Could argue for either Kaiser for employee only, or for employee with two or more dependents… the former is obviously cheaper. If employee wants a different plan, they pay the difference. Pro-choice…

        But the cash-out thing I adamantly oppose.

        1. David Greenwald

          I’m not really talking about cash out, I’m talking about the gap between the portion of the coverage paid for by the employer and the amount that the employee has to pay out of their pay check to get the coverage.

        2. Howard P

          That’s why I’d have no problem with employer offering full coverage for employee with 2 or more dependents, capped at the Kaiser rate… via CalPERS… pretty damn good coverage, minimal co-pays, no real deductible…

          We agree that existing @ DJUSD is a problem… inadequate.

  2. Tia Will

    I disagree with both of you. What is needed is not coverage and is not even insurance. What is needed is health care. Health care should be universal independent of employment, insurance, what company “works with your doctor” or any other purely artificial means to pretend that we have “freedom of choice” or a “free market system”. We do not. Even under the ACA, insurance for most remains tied to employment which stifles entrepreneurship, ability to develop one’s own talents, develop one’s own interests and strengths in order to maintain a system that enriches the few who have become part of the higher paying guilds ( pharmaceutical companies, hospital executives, doctors). This never ending debate about insurance could be solved by accepting some form of universal health care. Many  models are available in many countries which achieve far better health care statistics than we do while providing care for all of their citizens.

    1. Howard P

      We’ll agree to disagree… as you wax philosophic on ‘global plethora’ things, think David and I are more focused on what we, as DJUSD voters can do in the here and now.

      Glad to see you placed doctors in the “higher paying guild” classification…

      1. Tia Will


        There was absolutely nothing “philosophic” about my comment. Many other countries have already accomplished universal care for their citizens. This is not “pie in the sky”. It is their reality. It is nothing but political intransigence that keeps us from realizing the same improved outcomes. Who will make this happen if we do not demand it ?

        As for the ” higher paying guild”, I have said as much previously many times. You are only now appreciating it ?

        1. Dave Hart

          Only the federal government with the power to create money can pay for health care without forcing us into the trade off of doing so at the cost of not paving our roads, doing without fire protection or any other beloved service. These are trade offs we’re not willing to make politically. Yes, universal healthcare at the federal level that includes all medical sectors including dental and vision is what any sane person would strive for. I don’t see how a state or local government could pull it off financially.

  3. Howard P

    Ms. Zimmerman said, “I’ve heard (the cost for health insurance) can range from $1200 (per month) to $2400 is the most I’ve heard.”
    She said, “It’s significant.  One-third of your paycheck or more with your family.

    So… with no salary increase, if the District covered employee and dependents’ health care, that would be ~ 30% increase in net compensation, for some, apparently.
    I would have no problem voting for a measure to fully cover DJUSD employees (not just teachers) for health insurance capped at Kaiser 2 + dependents.  No cash out, and 2% salary increase, max.
    Said my piece… just my opinion.  Others should feel free to have other opinions.

  4. David Greenwald

    Posted for Dan Cornford:

    “I am in 110% agreement with Tia—universal health care for all.  I have known for about as long as David how much out of pocket expenses Davis teachers have had to pay for healthcare and I have been shocked.  Shocked by this fact and the fact that in supposedly, or once, progressive Davis that there are so many people who are indifferent to the teachers’ plight.  And by the fact that there are so many  people in Davis who, jealous of the good and deserved public benefits that some state employees get, make it their “sport” to attack all public employee benefit, salary levels et al. as if all were leeches drawing in $150,000 p.a. salary.  I hope, but doubt,   that these people would be shocked to learn just how low or mediocre, even in comparison to the private sector, the salaries of many public employees are.

    The “jealousy” argument is a despicable one.  It’s no better than one of the top one percenters saying to the homeless or the 40 so million Americans living in poverty that close to a billion people worldwide live on less than $2 a day, so just accept that you could be even worse off.  That we have a significant number of people in Davis basically advocating for a race to the bottom says so much about how the political direction of Davis has changed since I moved here in 2000.  With Davis Democrats (and Republicans) like this who needs Trump Republicans?”

  5. Howard P

    State employees like my wife, likewise, have their health insurance fully covered by their employers.

    From Transparent CA (based on public records), looks like hers, yours, and all dependents.  Family coverage.  Which is fine, and good.

    1. Sharla C.

      I answered my own question.  Teachers get  around $600 to use toward healthcare premiums for themselves. The cheapest plan is Kaiser at around $700 per month.  It looks like the person who is paying $400 chose a more expensive plan.  Maybe the benefit should be raised to at least fully cover the cost of Kaiser?

      1. David Greenwald

        The two teachers I talked to picked the least expensive plan which was the Kaiser plan.  I’m trying to get ahold of the numbers from the district to verify.

        1. Sharla C.

          See page 9.  The cap is $612 per month, but enrollment in vision, dental is mandatory and deducted first. The out of pocket cost for a single employee is $230 per month.  What if benefits were raised to cover at least this?

          My coverage at the University doesn’t fully cover my husband or children. The premiums are kept low for staff making less than $50K per year. But once you cross that threshold, the out of pocket costs jump.  However, single employees are fully covered and I think that’s a valid point.

    2. Howard P


      See page 6, in particular.

      Employees taking group health insurance receive $491.67 for employee only, $816.67 for employee plus one and $991.67 for employee plus dependents per month.  [Kaiser rates are, $704, $1408, and $1830, respectively]

      I leave the math to others.

      Also unclear if the DJUSD benefits cited also include EAP, Vision… see page 5. Unclear what those rates are.

      Please note I am only providing factual, public info here, and make no judgements in this post.


  6. Howard P

    Interestingly, DJUSD is the notable exception in Yolo County to have their data (salary/benefits) available on Transparent CA… one of the two you spoke to, appears to have been at a different district two years ago… guess DTA and/or DJUSD aren’t into “transparency” much…

  7. Keith O

    Instead of looking locally to fund teacher compensation I feel we should be using our energy to concentrate on getting the state to pay more.  They have the money (our money), but instead DJUSD keeps extracting more and more taxes from homeowners, many who are struggling.  For example, where would you like state funds to go, to teacher pay and healthcare or to the Bullet Train where costs are spiralling out of control, just read it’s up to $89 million per mile.

    1. Howard P

      You make a good point.  There are always trade-offs, and priorities have to be chosen.

      Yet, based on how we got here, not sure the funding sources can be diverted in that manner.

      1. David Greenwald

        There are several other problems:

        1. bullet train may or may not be a boondoggle, but it is single project that won’t solve ongoing funding for schools
        2. Davis is worse off than other districts
        3. Getting the state to fund things takes a lot longer – look at roads
        4. Local funding is the quickest and most direct way to address a local district problem

        In the bigger picture I agree with Tia, that the health benefit side of this could be solved through universal health care, but we know where that is headed. And even solving for health benefits, you still have the salary gap that needs solving.

        1. Keith O

          Davis is worse off than other districts

          I thought all things considered our schools were already average funded.  So we’re better off than some and worse off than others.  Correct?

          1. David Greenwald

            Looks like we are slightly below average in terms of funding at this time. We gotten there in part because of the $620 per parcel tax. Without that, we’d only be at 87% funding from the state.

            But funding is not the end of the story and so the choices we have made over the years has been as state funding levels have dropped, we have chosen to maintain our programs which in part helps this district be well above average in educational performance. The dilemma is the tradeoff between programs and compensation.

        2. Howard P

          Gets back to priorities, David.   $100/month increased contribution to medical ins coverage will be ~$100/month more take home pay; and $100/teacher/employee in cost.  A $100/month salary increase will cost the district that, plus increased cost for pension, and take-home is decreased by state and Fed taxes.

          Choices… trade-offs.

          Will be interesting what the priorities of DTA will be, assuming they may not be able to get “the whole enchilada”…

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