The Smithville Elementary School Cafeteria was filled with teachers Thursday night where the monthly meeting of the Board of Education was held.
These teachers who have health insurance through the school system offered by the state are facing higher premiums soon and that has them concerned because the extra out of pocket expense will affect their take home pay.
Last month the board voted to approve a rate hike as mandated by the state but since the school system did not absorb the increase in the plan in which most teachers are enrolled, the higher costs are being passed on to them. Of the 274 plus employees taking insurance, 146 are enrolled in the “limited ppo” plan that took the hardest hit. The state requires that the school system pay 45% toward its teachers’ health insurance, but according to Director of Schools Patrick Cripps, “we have been paying well over that, 55% and more depending upon the plan teachers have,” he said.
Under the Federal Affordable Care Act, the school system must offer at least one plan that is affordable for its lowest paid employees based on federal poverty guidelines. To meet that mandate, the school system provides a Consumer Directed Health Plan with Health Savings Account.
Since last month, the board of education has heard from teachers who say this extra expense will place a heavier burden on them financially. Some are concerned that many good teachers here will be forced to leave the system and take better paying jobs and health insurance benefits elsewhere if they don’t get more help.
Tena Davidson, a teacher at DeKalb Middle School, addressed the board Thursday night during its workshop with a suggestion.
“My compromise is for the school system not to absorb all the increase, but just the same percentage you absorbed last year. That is what I thought would be a fair compromise. The example for me is that if the school continued to pay the same percentage of my insurance as you did last year, because last year 70% was paid, my insurance, if I keep the same insurance, it would go up from $323 per month to $408, which is a 26% increase. That is manageable. However with the school only covering 57.5% of the insurance this year instead of 70% last year, my premium will go up from $323 per month to $579 per month, which is a 79% increase. That is out of my check. The end result on my paycheck will be monthly I am going to be bringing home $284 less per month and my husband and I will be getting $3,408 less this coming year. That’s a whopping big cut in my pay. But I am just one of many (teachers). We’re all in this together. I am just asking you to do what you can,” said Davidson.
In an effort to ease that burden, the Board, following its one hour workshop on the issue, voted during the regular meeting to add another $50 per month to each teacher who has insurance through the school system . The vote was 5 -1-1.
Second District Board member Jerry Wayne Johnson “passed” saying the board was acting in haste and should take more time to deliberate in another meeting or workshop. “This is a serious matter ladies and gentlemen. I’ve told you before when I got on this board not to try and ram something down my throat. This is just ramming it down our throat. We have not had enough time to study it. We need to set down, meet in a workshop and study this before you pass it. You don’t need to do it on the spur of the moment. I just want these people in the audience (teachers) to know why I’m voting no tonight. I have nothing against none of you. I wish we could pay 100% of your insurance.I am for you getting every dime you can get but I’m not going to have nothing run down my throat. I said that when I got on the board. I still say it and that’s the way I stand,” said Johnson.
Fourth district member Kate Miller said teachers needed a decision from the board because they are facing an open enrollment deadline this month by which time they must decide whether to keep their current health insurance plan or make changes. “I have had this information for several days and have been looking at it and studying it, really comparing the figures. I feel like it is reasonable. Its not as much as I wish we could do. I wish we could afford to pay the entire increase,” said Miller.
Sixth district member Doug Stephens told WJLE later that while he is concerned for the teachers, the board’s action Thursday night would only add to potential budget deficit issues for the school system and not fix the problem of rising health insurance costs, which is beyond the school board’s control.
Still, Board Chairman W.J. (Dub) Evins, III said it is a start toward addressing the teachers’ worries.
“It’s a lot of money but it seems like its no help at all. It’s a start. It’ll be real close to what we paid last year. I hope that (extra expenditure) doesn’t get into reserves but if it does, it does. In my opinion it’s better than nothing but at least it’s a start. We have to give people (teachers) time to make decisions on whether this is enough additional money to keep them from having to choose a different plan ” said Chairman Evins.
“Within the budget realms we have, we crunched the numbers and tried to fit this within our budget. We will go back (to the county commission) and ask for more (money) next year,” said Director Cripps.
In other business, Director Cripps updated the Board on personnel moves since last month.
Those employed are:
Janie Johnson, bus driver
Roger Gaw, custodian
Rochelle Johnson, deaf interpreter at Northside Elementary School
Julie Hale from educational assistant to an art position at DeKalb Middle School/DeKalb West School
Ricky Edwards, bus driver
Jennifer Sykes, teacher at DeKalb Middle School