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School board OKs salary increase and health plan change

By Staff | Nov 10, 2008

Employees of the Lee County School District will get a raise and a new health plan after the school board voted to pass a tentative agreement. On the other hand, it is likely that the increasing price of district health plans will consume most of the raise.

On Monday night, the board voted 5-0 to approve the 3 percent salary increase for staff and the new health plan which dissolves the 927 Plan and offers Blue Care 10 in its place.

According to a presentation by Susan Strong, from the Insurance Task Force, district health plans will increase in price.

“It’s going to be a historic vote in many ways,” said Board Member Robert Chilmonik. “It’s the first time in 30 years we haven’t given our teachers a step increase and a historic increase of over 24 percent in health insurance. We wish we could do more and we will do more.”

Board Member Elinor Scricca also said she wished more could be given to district staff.

“I would be disingenuous if I didn’t say it could be more. I am very concerned about all of the cutbacks that we are going to face,” said Scricca.

Vice Chairman Jane Kuckel said it is a priority to work on the budget to make sure more can be given back to teachers.

“We are tight on money, there is no question on that, but it is a priority for me and all of the other school board members,” said Kuckel.

According to the Insurance Task Force, health premiums increased because of a huge spike in local claims.

“We had a spike because people put off discretionary types of care until the summer,” said Strong. “This year our spikes were much larger. When premiums go up we all need to understand they go up because claims have gone up. “

The amount of claims increases over the summer, she said, but this summer was higher than ever before and no one understands why.

The district is perplexed at the increasing rate of claims. Strong said the task force plans on conducting research to find which conditions are being claimed more often and will later set up a wellness program to help decrease the number of claims.

“We will look into what types of diseases are causing spikes in claims,” she said. “After we know that we will focus our wellness program in those areas.”

Health plans will experience a 24 percent increase for employees. Of that increase, 9.5 percent is from expected medical trends, 8.6 percent from the unexpected spike in employee claims and a 5.9 percent loss of revenue resulting from employees migrating between health plans.

According to Chilmonik, much of the 3 percent salary raise will be mitigated by rising health insurance.

Teachers in the first step, for example, will receive an increase of $1,145, according to the tentative agreement last updated Oct. 17. But, those employees will have to pay $1,415 for two children under the 903 Plan, the most expensive health plan. Under the 118 Plan they would pay $834 per month for two children.

As a result, some teachers may find that the 3 percent raise is not a raise at all, although the district states there are a number of choices for employees.

Those who stay in the 903 Plan, for example, will see increases in their rates by $64, $146.50 to add a spouse, $98.50 to add one child, $137 for two children and $184 for a family.

On the other hand, some employees will be able to save money if they switch to plans that cover less. Those leaving the dissolved 927 Plan, for instance, could pay $40 less in rates if they join the 706 Plan, $48.50 less for the new HMO or $107.50 less in the 118 Plan.

“This was a very difficult subject, it was collaborative, but it was hard for everyone. You have to make choices and we know you can’t meet everyone’s needs,” said Strong. “We believe the decision we make will meet the interests of our employees.”

Last week, the teacher and support personnel associations of Lee County ratified the agreements by more than 95 percent. Bob Rushlow, president of the Support Personnel Association, addressed the board Monday and said the negotiations were the hardest he has ever experienced.

“We actually pulled together, collaboratively, some type of program that will fit the need of the employees,” said Rushlow.

Addressing the district’s administrators, Superintendent James Browder said they would not ask for a raise until the budget can be further studied. Also, he said that he is not asking for his raise at this time.