Cost of health insurance & reduction in number of teacher aids are main topics at Inter-Lakes school budget hearing
Published DateMEREDITH — A proposed $91,148 increase in health insurance costs due to implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the reduction in the number of paraeducators in the Inter-Lakes School District by six were the main topics of discussion at a public hearing on the school district's $20,998,543 proposed operating budget for the 2013-2014 school year, held last night at Inter-Lakes High School.
School board member Howard Cunningham of Sandwich said that a one-year collective bargaining agreement reached with the 80 members of the Inter-Lakes Support Staff Association will result in a net increase of approximately 3 percent in pay with each member receiving a 70 cent per hour increase, which coupled with a step increase amounts to a 90 cent an hour increase.
He said that the health care plan is designed to move the district toward compliance with a provision of the Affordable Care Act, which provides that the employees share of a health care plan the district provides can cost no more than 9.5 percent of that person's salary.
The Matthew Thornton plan which the district approved would cost $8,766 and the cost would be shared 50-50 between the school district and the employee. He said that the district will apply $3,100 of the Flex Med plan currently offered to lower its costs, but he expects that there will be another significant increase in future years as the district moves to full compliance.
Cunningham said the one-year agreement buys the district time and avoids civil fines of up to $2,000 for every employee in the district for non-compliance or $3,000 for every employee who requests a health insurance subsidy.
He said that all of the rules for the Affordable Care Act have not yet been written so that limiting the collective bargaining agreement to one year gives the district more flexibility in the future.
Asked later by Steve Merrill about how health insurance costs would be shared in the future Cunningham said that the district might bear as much as 85 percent of the policy costs.
Karen Sticht asked if the school board had considered reducing the hours for employees to just under 30 hours per week so that it wouldn't be liable for providing health insurance coverage Cunningham said ''we thought about our kids and decided that was too high a price.''
Sticht said she would rather see people working and that ''$90,000 would pay for a lot of people.''
The support association agreement is a separate warrant article which calls for spending $138,609 for the health insurance and wage increases.
Chris Mega questioned the board's rationale for reducing the number of special education paraeducators at Inter-Lakes Elementary School from 22 to 18 while retaining two teachers and for replacing two regular paraeducators at the high school with a certified teacher in a learning lab classroom.
Superintendent of Schools Mary Ellen Ormond said that the switch was designed to provide instruction directly to those who need it the most and was supported by board member Jack Carty, who said that it is the teacher, not paraeducators, who are responsible for classroom learning.
The proposed budget is up by $526,761 over last year, with over half of that, $297,072 due to increased retirement system contributions. Other major increases are $175,513 for salaries and $46,0076 for health and dental costs.
The district will also vote on a warrant article which would allow it to unassigned general funds of up to 2.5 percent a year of the total budget in a fund balance to be used for emergencies or to reduce the tax rate. If the new state law were in effect for this year's budget the district would be able to retain up to $466,000.
Mark Billings asked if there was a limit on how much could be retained in the fund balance over time and was told that the state Department of Revenue Administration monitors the fund balance and recommends that it be no more than 10 percent of the total budget.