Appleton West High School rally

Students at Appleton West High School rally in support of their teachers in February.

SHARON CEKADA - Appleton Post-Crescent archives

Democratic leaders at the state Capitol say schoolchildren are being hurt by state budget cuts.

But here’s another example — this one from Appleton — of schoolchildren being protected:

The Appleton School District just saved more than $3 million on its health insurance plan simply by going out to bid for the first time in six years, according to the Appleton Post Crescent. And without a doubt, it was Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining changes and state budget cuts that prompted the savings.

The Appleton district had long been offering its teachers generous health insurance from WEA Trust, which is affiliated with the state teachers union.

A funny thing happened on the way to bidding out the health insurance contract to save money — WEA Trust not only lowered its price for the same benefits, it eventually agreed to match the lowest price of any competitor.

Among several bidders, Network Health Plan offered the lowest bid to potentially save the district an estimated $3.1 million, according to the Appleton newspaper. But the district’s School Board then allowed WEA Trust, which bid about $1 million higher, to match Network’s low bid. Then the board awarded WEA Trust the contract.

That hardly seems fair to Network.

But a bigger concern is the impact on Appleton taxpayers. If it was so easy for WEA Trust to match any bid, no matter how low, then why wasn’t it offering the district a better deal all along? And why wasn’t the local School Board demanding a better deal for taxpayers?

In the end, the more than $3 million in savings from the insurance company will be on top of millions more in savings because school employees have agreed to contribute more to their health insurance and pensions (again, because of pressure from Walker).

That means the pain of state aid cuts to public schools is being felt by the teachers and their insurance company. That pain for individual teachers is real and shouldn’t be minimized. Yet it’s not unlike the sacrifices private sector workers have endured for years now because of the recession.

And Appleton is not laying off a slew of teachers. Class sizes — and student programming — will stay virtually the same.