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Walker visits Reedsburg 3 (copy)

Students Alek Severson, left, and Michael Griffin listen as Gov. Scott Walker speaks at Reedsburg Area High School on March 21.

School districts that have saved on health care costs by through Gov. Scott Walker's signature 2011 law curtailing collective bargaining would likely get a share of the hundreds of millions in new school funding proposed by Walker, his office said Friday. 

The comments come after Kim Eparvier, superintendent of the Peshtigo School District, told the Wisconsin State Journal that Walker's proposal tie the proposed $649 million in new funding to a fixed percentage of employee health care contributions diminishes school administrators' and school boards' power in crafting benefit packages for their employees. 

Walker, who visited Eparvier's district this week to promote his record increase in funding for public schools, has characterized that requirement as ensuring districts are compliant with Act 10, the 2011 law that curtailed collective bargaining abilities for public school teachers while letting districts shift more pension and health insurance costs to employees. 

But Eparvier, who contacted the office of Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, earlier this week, said Friday that the proposed requirement takes away the flexibility Act 10 gave school district officials. Walker's proposal requires districts to make their staff pay at least 12 percent toward health care costs, which Eparvier's district staff does. 

Tom Evenson, spokesman for Walker, said the majority of school districts will likely get the new funding if passed as proposed. 

"The Governor's public education funding increases were designated for all the districts that have used tools to put more money into the classroom, which we believe is the overwhelming majority," Evenson said. "If the Peshtigo School District has used the tools to achieve savings, then we believe it is meeting the spirit of the provision and will work with the Legislature to ensure it would benefit from such increases."

Evenson noted that State Superintendent Tony Evers said during testimony on the 2017-19 state budget on Thursday that he believes only a couple school districts wouldn't meet the 12 percent threshold. 

At the time the budget proposal was released, Walker's indicated it was aimed at the Madison School District by saying it was the only district they had identified that wouldn't be eligible for the new funding. The district for years after Act 10 was enacted didn't require staff to pay any portion of their health insurance costs.

The district does now require employees to pay something toward their monthly health insurance premiums, but the contributions do not reach the 12 percent threshold Walker proposed. The contribution levels in Madison range from 1.5 percent for lower-paid staff to 10 percent for school district administrators.

Eparvier said Friday that at the time the Act 10 law took effect, "school administrators were promised by legislators that local districts now had the flexibility and 'tools' to do as they wished relative to benefit packages," he said in an email. "Now, this new proposed legislation requiring the 12% is just another mandate and broken promise."

He said districts around the state are offering benefit packages that include health reimbursement accounts, high deductible plans, higher co-pays and on-site health clinics in partnership with health insurance companies and providers that can help reduce costs to taxpayers. 

"Essentially, my call to John Nygren's office was my way of advocating for local control and for other districts that currently don't contribute the 12%," Eparvier said. "By paying a greater portion of health insurance premiums, some districts use this as a strategy to attract and maintain quality employees in rural schools."

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