Adjunct faculty face healthcare issues

One day, Michelle Kern, a part time teacher at College of San Mateo, noticed a small cut on her foot. At first, she thought that it was nothing serious. She applied Neosporin, in the hopes that it would heal up.

It didn’t.

Kern’s cut began to grow larger, and a rash emanated out from it, spreading up her leg. Eventually, after extensive pressure from her mother, she went to a doctor. However, the trip to the doctor was something that Kern dreaded for one prevailing reason: She did not have health insurance.

“When the doctor came in to see me, he demanded to know why I didn’t have health insurance,” Kern said. “He asked how someone who was a college teacher could not have health insurance. I started crying and said part time teachers don’t get health insurance at my school.”

While Kern was able to get the necessary shots to stop the progress of her infection, she also ended up paying a significant amount of the bill out of pocket.

The problem faced by Kern is in no way unique: Part time educators are not included in the district’s health plan, and only receive a $600 stipend per semester for medical expenditures, and that’s only if they already have some sort of health coverage. The medical expenditures incurred by these teachers often far outstrip the funding provided by the district.

Part time educators make up a significant part of the district’s teaching force; upwards of 700 faculty members are classified as part time. However, the medical benefits that the district provides to these educators are low. When compared to the ten other bay area community college districts, referred to as the Bay Ten, SMCCD currently ranks ninth. Further complicating matters is the fact that the income earned by many part time educators places them above the poverty line, making them unable to receive MediCal benefits.

Katharine Harer, a teacher at Skyline College, felt that the district’s lack of coverage for part time educators is detrimental to the school’s ability to provide the best educational opportunities for the students.

“There are really excellent part time faculty members who don’t remain in the district,” Harer said. “Students don’t get the benefit of excellent instruction because they aren’t getting adequate support.”

Harer went on to state that students who were concerned about their part time teachers should voice their concerns, either by speaking to their own part time teachers or by directly contacting the union office.

Skyline student Jonathan Gonzales mirrored this sentiment, stating that teachers have little incentive to stay if they are not covered by the district.

“I think they should have at least basic coverage,” Gonzales said. “If they’re receiving some coverage, it’d be more of an incentive to stay. If one district offers coverage and the other doesn’t, then they’d probably leave.”

AFT Executive Secretary Dan Kaplan stated that the recent presentation to the board of trustees was an important step in raising awareness about the challenges of part time educators.

“I think that the part time and full time faculty who made presentations at the last Board meeting concerning the part time medical reimbursement stipend all did an excellent job in explaining the issue to the Trustees.” Kaplan said via e-mail.

Kern, in her presentation to the board, stated that she had tried to find a way to qualify for a suitable health plan. However, under the current circumstances, she would have to take drastic action to receive anything useful.

“If I were to divorce my husband, I’d get a very good subsidy,” Kern said. “But I’d miss my husband, whom I love.”