April 2015 Advocate – Part-timer medical stipend presentations


Faculty members tell their stories to the Board

by Katharine Harer, AFT 1493 Co-Vice President

On Wednesday evening, March 25th, smack in the middle of Spring Break, five faculty members spoke to the Board of Trustees about the impact on their lives of the District’s current PT medical reimbursement stipend of $600 per semester.  A number of part-time and full time faculty members came to the meeting to show their support.

Think about your own healthcare
The opening speaker was Skyline Health Science and Allied Health professor, Paul Rueckhaus.  Paul is the Coordinator for the Allied Health Career Advancement Academy and Health Navigator programs at Skyline. He’s been at Skyline for four years and has also taught classes in English Composition, public health and ESL for healthcare and hospitality workers.  Paul led off by asking all of us to think about our own healthcare:  “I’d like to begin by asking everyone in this room to think about the last time they experienced a health issue.” He went on to describe the instability that many of our part-timers feel about not being able to afford healthcare. Paul then discussed the differences among the over 700 part-time faculty who teach in our district, acknowledging that many have their healthcare covered by spouses or other jobs. “However, many part-timers are actually full time teachers, cobbling together a number of teaching assignments from various school districts — known as Road Scholars, Road Warriors, Freeway Flyers and other catchy names to describe the sometimes frantic race that drives us from campus to campus.”  Many in the room, including the Trustees, nodded, recognizing Paul’s depiction of the lives of this group of part-timers.

Paul went on to cite some of the data from the recent union survey of PT healthcare:  “Average annual healthcare expenses paid by part-time employees was $5,519 per year–330% of what the medical stipend covers. And although the Affordable Care Act has expanded eligibility for health coverage, the costs of the plans are still out of reach for many of our faculty members.” He then shared the shameful fact that SMCCD ranks #9 out of the Bay Ten, our 10 neighboring community college districts, in the amount and type of coverage offered to part-time faculty. The Trustees were given a chart prepared by the union that outlines the benefits offered by each of the Bay Ten districts.
Paul was followed by Jennifer Mair, part-time Communications professor at Skyline College.  Jennifer worked in the corporate sector where she had full benefits before she began working as a part-time teacher in our district, sacrificing her healthcare to work with students.  Jennifer doesn’t simply teach classes at Skyline; she has designed a successful program that guides students to imagine, advocate for and create start-up projects responsive to the needs of the campus. Through the process of writing, presenting, creating community engagement and participating in campus forums, students receive funding from a grant Jennifer has written to the President’s Innovation Fund. As a result, they see their projects come to life.  Jennifer has given the Skyline community a huge gift over her many years of part-time employment.

Covered California would cost $500/month
Jennifer then recounted the harrowing story of a snow boarding accident two years ago that broke both her legs.  Because she had no health insurance other than Healthy San Francisco, she could not afford to be taken to a local hospital.  She had to endure the long drive back to San Francisco in order to receive medical attention.  While Jennifer was healing from her injuries, Healthy San Francisco was subsumed by Covered California, which left Jennifer with no affordable healthcare options.  She did not qualify for a subsidy and her benefits under Covered California would cost $500 a month.  She is currently uninsured.  For Jennifer, a substantial increase in the amount of the Medical Reimbursement Stipend would be “a huge step in feeling supported in my work for the district.”

Next, part-time English professor, Kim Escamillo, addressed the Trustees.  She has taught part-time at both Skyline and CSM for more than seven years.  “At Step 11 I gross somewhere between $36,000 and $43,000 each year for teaching 6-8 courses, as well as working in the writing center, grant work and extra sub jobs. I also serve voluntarily on the COI committee, participate in a Learning Community, and I’m a mentor in the Umoja and Project Change communities. Teaching at CSM is not a part-time job that I’m doing while I’m working towards other goals—it is my career.”

“Maternity-friendly” plan: $375/mo., $5000 deductible
Kim’s husband’s job, as an independent contractor, does not offer insurance either. Kim and her husband have two sons:  “One is 15 and permanently disabled and therefore qualifies for and has been on Medi-Cal for many years. The other is 21 months old and spent the last six months of 2014 uninsured and unvaccinated as we couldn’t afford Covered California, but made too much to qualify for Medi-Cal.”  She went on to describe her experience with Kaiser:  “In 2012, I purchased a private ‘maternity-friendly’ plan through Kaiser — just for myself — that included maternity visits and delivery. My premium was $375 a month—and my deductible was $5,000. We slowly learned that many basic services (like ultrasounds) were not covered by our insurance policy. After an issue-free natural birth we were left with a bill for the full $5000 plus the $375 premium. To add my newborn son onto my plan would cost an additional $250 a month.  I couldn’t afford to pay the $625 a month in premiums and pay the bill for the $5000 deductible.  The district’s current total semester reimbursement would have only covered one month of that premium.”

Kim said the baby is now covered at the cost of $200 a month, but she and her husband are currently uninsured.  She ended with this admonition:  “If the district wants its 700+ part-time faculty to teach effectively, participate on campus, and stay healthy, then it should, like any moral employer, provide faculty medical assistance that keeps us on campus doing our jobs.”

The third part-time professor who spoke was Michelle Kern, a proud alum from CSM. Michelle has taught ceramics at a local high school for nine years through Concurrent Education at CSM.  Prior to teaching in the district, Michelle worked as an artist, a teacher and an arts community organizer in the East Bay.  She was never offered health coverage in any of her arts-related positions.  Michelle described her disappointment when she learned that she wouldn’t get coverage working for SMCCD either:  “I had hoped the move in 2006 to a college environment would make me eligible for benefits that I might find affordable, but realized after I was hired as an adjunct at CSM that this was not the case.  San Mateo Community College District did not have a plan that was accessible to a part-timer, except for a small medical stipend to reimburse some of your costs if you had a medical plan from elsewhere.  My husband also works in fields that do not offer health benefits, so like many other artists and teachers in the Bay Area, I just hoped nothing bad would happen to me, and went without insurance.”

Not having health insurance is “irresponsible”
Michelle’s story continues:  “Right after I started work, a small cut on my foot blew up into an infection that turned into a red streak going up toward my ankle.  I hemmed and hawed, trying to soak it in hot water and put Neosporin on it, even though I knew that red streak was a bad sign, until my mother insisted that I go to the ER at San Mateo County Hospital.  I was checked in and let them know my uninsured status.   When the doctor came in to see me, he demanded to know why I didn’t have health insurance.  He told me that it was ‘irresponsible’ of me, since women my age need annual health check-ups and cancer screenings.  He asked how someone who said they were a college teacher could possibly not have health insurance, since it’s a ‘respectable job’.  I started crying, and told him, ‘Part-time college teachers don’t get health insurance at my school.’”
After a car accident, and with the words of the doctor about women “her age” and cancer screenings echoing in her head, Michelle decided she had better look for private insurance.  “I plugged in my income and my husband’s income, hoping that I’d be eligible for some kind of subsidy, as the Kaiser silver plan I had selected was over $400 a month.  I was dismayed to find out that our combined income of $64,000 put us over federal poverty guidelines for two people.”  She continued:  “If I divorced my husband, I would get a very good subsidy.  But I’d miss my husband, whom I love.” This brought a smile to many in the audience, followed by a pang of sadness at the bitter ironies surrounding healthcare in this country — and in our district.

Michael Hoffman, a full time math professor at Cañada, was the final presenter of the evening. Michael is the Basic Skills and Student Equity Coordinator at Cañada.  He also works with the college’s STEM Center programs, Math Jam, the Accelerated Math Program and he’s involved with embedded tutoring management and tutor training.  Michael, like Paul, had worked as a part-time teacher in our district for many years and spoke about the “uselessness” of the medical stipend.  Michael said the stipend wasn’t enough to cover the cost of his healthcare, even when combined with support from other districts where he taught.  He also made the point that there’s no coverage for vision and dental, which was where he needed the most help.

Good pay & benefits will attract talented part-timers
Michael cautioned the Trustees that just as it is important to offer good wage and benefits’ packages for administrators in order to attract the best talent to our district, it’s the same for teachers: “For the past two semesters we’ve been struggling to expand our accelerated math program because the teachers with the training and enthusiasm refuse to give up their commitments at other schools to come to Cañada.  Our part-time instructors teach the majority of our students, and offering competitive benefits has a real impact on the quality and stability of our programs and, therefore, the outcomes for our students.”

Each of the teachers who spoke contributes in essential ways to our district’s programs and to our students, as do so many of our part-time faculty members.  They are passionate about education, and their dedication to students extends well beyond classroom teaching, into essential programs, campus community building and mentorship.
Lisa Melnick, a part-time instructor in kinesiology at CSM, sent this message to me after she attended the presentation:  “As I was driving home, I had such a feeling of satisfaction in my heart for having been present at last night’s BOT meeting.  I was deeply moved by the detailed and close-up stories of the various ways part-timers lives are painfully impacted by the lack of decent health coverage.”

As I drove home that Wednesday evening, the word “uninsured” echoed in my mind. What would it feel like to know you couldn’t make an appointment with a doctor when you’re sick, or hurt, or just worried about a symptom?  What if you can’t afford health coverage for your child?  And what kind of district are we if we don’t care enough about the health of ALL of our faculty members to offer a useful amount of support.  Are we, in Kim’s words, “a moral employer?”

View videos of the faculty presentations