SMMUSD HDQTRS — Upset with a proposal to cap employer contributions to their health care coverage, a contingent of teachers flooded the Board of Education meeting on Thursday to address what they believe will be a permanent pay cut.

There was not an open seat in the house as a crowd of educators filled the board room, a strange occurrence given that the majority were there for an issue that was not on the agenda.

The meeting on Thursday was specially scheduled for the board to begin reviewing the district’s 400 policies and administrative regulations, the first of three such conferences.

The contingent of teachers included veterans and newcomers alike, some standing sternly with their arms crossed, some carrying their children, other resting on the floor, the lucky few sitting in the chairs, all listening to union leader Harry Keiley address their concerns.

The potential changes to employee health care is just one of many possible cost-savings measures on the table for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, which is expected to lose more than $10 million in revenues over the next 18 months due to state funding cuts. The district could lose out on more if key propositions on Tuesday’s special election fail.

Board members said they hear and understand the teachers’ concerns.

“We’re staring down a disastrous potential budget coming from the state,” school board member Ben Allen said. “I hope everyone takes this passion and votes on Tuesday.”

Oscar de la Torre, a school board member, noted that the district and bargaining units have worked collaboratively in the past and pointed out that officials try to do their best given the circumstances.

He pointed to the vision statement, which mentions social justice.

“It’s injustice when (the state) is paying prison guards more than educators,” he said.

After they exited the meeting, teachers talked about the necessity of keeping the current health care plan intact, adding that they already pay out of pocket for classroom extras such as supplies, pizza for students, and some reading materials.

“It’s understandable the district is suffering through this crisis, everyone is,” Dana Bart-Bell, a teacher librarian at Santa Monica High School for the past nine years, said. “It’s understandable the district is looking for a way to deal with this temporary crisis but that is such a permanent solution.

“It’s a solution that is even more insidious because it’s so disrespectful of the money the teachers already spend that the district doesn’t.”

Bart-Bell, who said the health insurance covers her entire family, including a daughter who is about to attend Samohi, said that many teachers already can’t afford to live in Santa Monica because of the high cost of living.

“It’s difficult to be a teacher in the state of California,” she said. “To take even more away, it’s untenable.”

Approximately 25 teachers addressed the issue originally during the board meeting on May 7 in Malibu. Keiley said that his goal was to send 50 teachers this time around and was pleased to exceed the target by double.

“When we ask our members to turn out and stand in unity and solidarity on an issue, it’s usually a very important issue,” he said. “For our members, for their modest standard of living and their quality of life, nothing is more important to them than the security of their health care.”

He said the union is proposing to maintain the status quo for health care and close the budget gap by pulling in money saved up in the district’s reserves, saying that it’s basically a rainy day.

For Joseph Ramirez, a second grade teacher at John Muir Elementary School, the health care plan helps cover medical expenses for his growing family, welcoming a daughter less than a year ago. His wife also works for the district.

“You have teachers in and out all the time, getting colds, developing cancer, developing stress from extra work load,” he said. “It’s very difficult to come into school sometimes and have to deal with all the different things teachers have to face — social issues, political issues.

“Without medical care for families, I don’t even know where we would go.”