Contributed by Hosea Born, Hope Education Association, President
2020 brought about a plethora of challenges that we as a society have navigated. During
the global health pandemic, we came together as a community and are now emerging on the
other side. Educators made sacrifices day in and out and even in Hope, we saw educators
hospitalized from COVID and many lost loved ones.
As if educators were not facing enough challenges, the Employee Benefits Division
(EBD) announced a $90 million deficit in the public school employee healthcare account this
year. The Arkansas Education Association advocated for funds from the governor to help cover
this deficit and $20 million from Hutchison’s discretionary fund was applied. This leaves a $70
million deficit and educators cannot be expected to shoulder this alone, yet we are. Educators
will also see a reduction in the wellness benefit that helps reduce premiums.
Education is already in a crisis due to underpaid positions, long hours, lack of respect for
the profession, and what seems to be an unwillingness to support public servants. HEA and
organizations alike will continue to advocate for change, it is the way forward. On the other side
of advocacy, positive action needs to be taken by the school board. We have to see an
investment into the educators who are teaching the future.
There are two immediate action items that should be taken to address this issue. First,
the Arkansas legislature must use a portion of the state’s $980 million surplus to cover the
deficit. Before tax cuts are considered, we have to look at our education system and invest in it
so Arkansas is no longer in the bottom 10 states for education.
The second action item that should be taken is for the Hope Public School District to
increase the healthcare contribution to classified and certified staff. The Personnel Policy
Committee presented an amendment to current district policy which only states the minimum
amount will be contributed to educators participating in the public school employee plan. This
would have amended policy 7.23 to increase contributions by $50 per month. The average
increase educators will see is just under $70 per month according to projections from the state.
In the June school board meeting, outgoing Superintendent Dr. Hart recommended
rejecting this policy to the board, even after the board included a $3,000 insurance benefit in his
contract before his departure was announced. Hope has received over 15 million dollars in
COVID federal funds, but can’t manage $600 per year for staff that participate in health
insurance coverage, according to Hart.
While a small increase for the upcoming year will occur due to salary increases (~2%
was mentioned), this ignores the 15% to 78% increase that educators will see. Without further
action, the raise to get Hope educators to the state minimum salary will go unnoticed