Sticker shock at the school

Family health care premiums: $32,000 next year

by Tom Coombe -

In many respects, a brief school board meeting on Monday night was the calm before the storm.
Employee health insurance serves as an ominous cloud hanging over the Ely district, with employees on the family plan facing out of pocket premium costs of nearly $20,000 for the next 12 months of coverage.
Board members also face key decisions in the next several weeks on other issues, including the possible funding of additional athletic programs as well as the school’s potential involvement in plans for a community recreation complex.
Both the health insurance and athletic issues were addressed briefly at the regular monthly meeting, which lasted less than an hour.
More details have emerged on the district’s most vexing issue - employee health insurance.
Bids for coverage in 2017-18 resulted in sticker shock, with annual premiums for the current family plan jumping from $22,800 this year to almost $32,000 in 2017-18 under an insurance plan the district obtains through the Northeast Service co-op.
Barring a change, the increase would be borne all by the employees receiving family coverage, given contract agreements with both the AFSCME and teachers’ unions that cap district premium contributions at just over $12,000 per year.
Board chairman Ray Marsnik acknowledged the dilemma Monday.
“It’s going to be an issue that we as a board have to address for our employees,” said Marsnik. “Right now our health insurance is getting to be very unaffordable.”
It appears both the board and the unions have options - including a possible switch to the Public Employees Insurance Program. Depending on the plan and level of coverages, annual premiums would range from roughly $20,000 to $26,000 per year.
Abrahamson said Thursday that he is wrestling with other options, including district action to alleviate the premium increase for one year while an independent third party is engaged to explore the insurance issue.
Insurance coverage, particularly the district’s contribution for annual premiums, also figures to be the pivotal issue in upcoming contract talks between the district and the respective unions.
Last year, AFSCME leaders asked for relief when a spike in costs raised the employee obligation for family coverage to about $900 per month.
Under the present contract and current health plan, employees on the family plan would have more than $1,600 per month deducted from their paychecks in 2017-18.
June decision on sports funding
In response to a question posed by board member Heidi Mann, Abrahamson said a recommendation would come next month on requests that the school district take on funding responsibility for Nordic skiing, boys track and girls track.
Those sports are funded by booster clubs, but representatives have petitioned the board and have asked the school to take on the obligation in 2017-18.
Initial estimates show that it would add about $40,000 in annual expense to the district budget, giving at least one board member - Scott Kellerman - cause for concern.
Abrahamson said he is waiting for the legislative session to wrap up in order to get a better handle on the district’s revenue stream for next year.
Discussion has also evolved to other alternatives, including perhaps partial funding in 2017-18 with the district taking on only the coaches’ stipends - a $22,000 expense.
Board members did not take any action this week nor discuss the community recreation center project.
At an April study session, project boosters presented three options showing how a complex - to include a gymnasium, pool and other amenities - would fit on the west side of the campus.
While the project remains in the conceptual stage, with funding mechanisms for construction and operational funding yet undetermined - project supporters have asked the board to determine whether or not they support locating it on school grounds.
In other business, the board:
• Accepted the retirement notice of special education instructor Lynn Lockhart.
• Terminated the contracts of several faculty members working with variances, as required by law. Abrahamson said the district plans to bring each faculty member - Chuck Plantz, Molly Olson, Heather Cavalier and Laurie Warner - back next fall.
• Received a report summarizing winter athletics.
• Accepted quotes for liability, workers compensation and cyber liability insurance.
• Accepted the resignation of Valerie Beale, early childhood family education parent educator.