Teachers union claims it notified MCPS of problems with medical insurance premiums a yr before district said it knew

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A union representing county teachers alleges that it notified Montgomery County Public Schools in 2020 about problems with its process for refunding prepaid medical insurance premiums greater than a yr before the college district claimed it was first aware of the problem. The union also claims MCPS refused to take steps to correct the issue until it threatened to file a lawsuit.

On Friday, the county’s inspector general released a report that found MCPS owes between $3 million to $13.5 million in prepaid medical insurance premiums to lots of of employees who’ve either resigned or retired.

The inspector general began investigating the matter after receiving a tip through its hotline in March. The tipster explained that MCPS teacher salaries are paid over a 10-month period and can’t be opened up over 12 months. For this reason, medical insurance premiums are prorated over a 10-month cycle to ensure that coverage to proceed throughout your entire yr.

“When a teacher retires, their medical insurance coverage through the lively worker medical insurance plan is terminated and they have to obtain coverage under a separate retiree plan,” the report reads. “Upon retirement, the prepaid insurance premium is forfeited.”

After interviewing multiple senior managers, the inspector general found that the medical insurance premiums practice has been occurring since not less than 2000. The inspector general’s report said MCPS Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight and her administration were only recently notified of the problem. In a community message on Friday, MCPS wrote that it learned of the issue in December.

But leaders of the Montgomery County Education Association, the union representing teachers employed by MCPS, said this week that the union repeatedly raised the problem with district leaders in 2020 and 2021.

“After we became aware that MCPS refused refunds to members who were erroneously charged for insurance coverage, we advocated for MCPS to refund overcharges and proper the issue,” the union wrote in a press release to Bethesda Beat on Monday. “… Long after they were made aware of our concerns, MCPS knowingly continued to incorrectly charge those that resigned and retired.”

In a message to its members on Monday, the union said: “This was not a simple win. It took our fierce advocacy and threat of a lawsuit for MCPS to ultimately comply with begin refunding payments to affected employees. Unfortunately, that is just yet one more example of our union’s constant struggle to have MCPS treat our members with dignity and respect.”

Union leaders provided copies of emails dating to early 2021 showing conversations between them and MCPS human resources officials concerning the issue.

In an email Tuesday afternoon, MCPS spokesman Chris Cram said, “District leadership is unaware of conversations before this school yr raising this as an important issue.”

“In reality, during this school yr, discussions to resolve this with our worker association partners were collaborative and agreeable, which resulted in what was announced throughout the spring to staff and publicly last Friday following the discharge of the Inspector General’s report,” Cram wrote.

In its message to the community on Friday, MCPS officials wrote that they were implementing “a state-of-the-art human capital management software system to raised manage the payment of profit premiums,” and that they’d take further measures to handle and proper the impact that the system had on previous employees who retired or resigned from the district.

MCPS officials declined to comment further at the moment.

Refunds have been given to employees through the last three years, starting from $200 to $900 depending on the insurance plan, the inspector general’s report said. An worker would request the refund after retiring or resigning from the system.

The inspector general estimated that if the practice has continued for the last 22 years, then MCPS retained about $136,000 to $615,000 per yr. Which means in total, the district has held on to about $3 million to $13.5 million in medical insurance premiums that ought to have been refunded to employees.

In its statement to Bethesda Beat on Monday, MCEA wrote the report “makes us optimistic that those that prior to now were overcharged will finally receive the refunds they deserve.”

Caitlynn Peetz might be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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