Facing a nearly 8 percent increase in health insurance premiums, administrators in Forest Park’s public school district met with representatives of the teachers’ union to carve out a series of changes that could cost rank-and-file employees more each time they visit a doctor. But from both sides of the table, the negotiation is being hailed as a success.

“The district is working extremely hard to keep costs down for everyone,” Rebecca Ciardullo, a middle school teacher and union leader, said.

Ciardullo described the talks as a mutual and “very positive” exercise, and credited administrators with sharing the teachers’ focus – students.

Without changing the plans offered to employees, another $87,100 in premiums would have been charged to the district and its employees, according to a cost analysis provided to school board members this month. Instead, that increase will be limited to only $3,984. That figure represents a scant .4 percent increase in health insurance premiums, bringing District 91’s total cost to $1.115 million.

The district pays 67 percent of the total premiums for health insurance.

Ed Brophy, assistant superintendent for the district, described the savings as “absolutely fantastic.”

“We had a very collaborative conversation,” Brophy said of discussions with the union. “It was important to everyone to provide the best opportunity to contain the cost of health insurance.”

For employees, the changes will result in steeper co-pays for prescription drugs and higher deductibles for medical care. Retail prescriptions that would have cost an insured employee $10, $20 or $35 will jump to $15, $30 and $50, according to the new plans. Families covered under a district employee’s insurance will see their deductible increase from $3,000 to $4,500.

The impact to employees’ paychecks will be relatively minor. Many HMO participants will see less than $7 in additional deductions. Those enrolled in PPO coverage will actually have money returned to their paychecks.

District employees are well aware of the concessions that private-sector workers are being forced to make as a result of the recession, said Ciardullo, and that figured into the union’s position. As important as the coverage may be, health insurance and health care are expensive, she said.

“I think that was one of those areas we agreed to keep an eye on,” Ciardullo said.

School board members voted unanimously May 5 to approve the new insurance plans and union members are expected to ratify the agreement this week. Salary negotiations with the teachers’ union are ongoing, but a new contract is expected this summer.

Superintendent Lou Cavallo said the level of cooperation on both sides of the table is unlike anything he’s encountered in other school districts. Employee unions can buck proposed concessions just as easily as administrators can make ham-handed recommendations. It takes a joint effort to limit an increase in premiums, he said.

“That is the most significant thing about this. We virtually had a flat increase,” Cavallo said. “That is virtually unheard of.”

Forest Park’s K-8 school district has done well to maintain insurance costs in recent years. This time last year, the district was facing a potential 24 percent increase in its premiums. Administrators switched brokers and managed to secure coverage options that actually saved the district 9 percent.