|Wed, Sep 17, 2014 09:44 PM
|Issue of September 10, 2014
May 15, 2013 | 08:53 AM
With government mandates pertaining to health insurance slated to take effect Jan. 1, John Thomas, superintendent of the North Harrison Community School Corp., is trying to find a way to meet the requirements while keeping the school system in the black.
During Thursday's night's meeting of the school trustees, Thomas gave a PowerPoint presentation about the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, better known as Obamacare, and was prepared to make a recommendation to the board.
However, after listening to several members of the community, including many who would be adversely impacted by the recommendation, the board agreed to table any decision until the end of the month.
During his presentation, Thomas said the school corporation is required to offer health insurance coverage to all full-time employees (anyone working at least 30 hours is considered full time). However, NHCSC cannot afford to provide coverage to all of its non-certified employees nor could it pay the penalty, which Thomas estimated would be about $400,000 per year, that would be imposed if it didn't.
"Insurance rates are expected to go up," Thomas said. "Title I funds are being reduced due to the sequester ... Title II Part A funds are being reduced by 5 percent ... Tuition support is not going up."
He said it's not just North Harrison that is struggling with these decisions, but "it's all over."
Under the PPAHCA, employers with 50 or more full-time workers will determine those full-time employees during a "look back" period of six months, to occur in 2013. Thomas proposed North Harrison's look-back period be from June 1 through Nov. 30.
In order to reduce the number of full-time employees, he proposed reducing the hours of non-certified employees, including teaching assistants, to 29 hours a week and those who are hired to work nine months of the year in the near future would be hired as part-time employees.
"Do I like to have to do this? No," Thomas said. "Our teaching assistants do a fantastic job.
"My job is to keep the school corporation solvent, keep everybody employed," he said. "At least, you have a job."
A single benefit plan for an employee costs the school corporation $3,831. To offer health coverage to the 60 employees Thomas proposed to reduce to part-time status would cost $229,860. (An additional 40 or so non-certifieds, the ones hired prior to 2004, would continue to work at full-time status.)
"Multiply that over the years, it would be a tremendous amount of money," Thomas said. "We could end of in deficit spending."
Former teacher Greg Rupp said Thomas' plan would drive away the good assistants.
"These assistants are a valuable asset to our school," he said, adding that they're "dedicated neighbors and community members."
Jimmi Fessel, secretary at Morgan Elementary School, spoke on behalf of a collective group of non-certified employees, reminding the school board that they have a contract that includes a severance package, sick days and offers them health insurance until they are eligible for Medicare. She said Thomas' recommendation would have a negative impact on the school corporation.
Jerry Renneker, who served the past four years on the school board and whose wife is a NHCSC non-certified employee, questioned where teaching assistants are going to come from if they aren't allowed to work more than 29 hours a week.
He said the recommendation seemed to be based on a budget shortfall even though it has been known for two years that Obamacare was coming.
Teacher Dan Haskell, who also has a wife employed by the school system as a non-certified, urged the five-member board to table the recommendation. Several non-certified employees had submitted their resignations.
"To ask them, to force, really, to make a decision about retirement on two-weeks notice is ... not right morally," he said, encouraging the board to "sit on" any submitted resignations so the employees could reconsider what they were doing.
Michael Beyerle, who also completed a four-year term on the board, called the recommendation a "true morale buster."
"You've got plenty of ways to keep working on this," he said.
Another former school trustee, Bobby Chinn, who served two terms on the board, said, "I just think you guys need to step back and take a breather ... investigate what you're doing."
Before changing his recommendation from action to tabling a decision, Thomas said he was reluctant to do anything during the summer for fear it would appear as the board were acting behind the public's back.
He also recommended that two board members and two school employees serve on a committee to look at other options.
"I'm not saying everybody's going to get everything they want," Thomas said. "Nobody does. I don't get everything I want."
He reminded the board that a decision will need to be made by June 1, "one way or another," or everyone who currently receives health insurance will have to be offered it again for another year.
Board president Veronica Battista encouraged everyone to contact their legislators.
"They're the ones who can make this happen, grant school corporations a waiver" from the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, she said.