The Rappahannock County School Board Tuesday night (July 10) chose Jackson district member Amy Hitt to serve on a joint supervisors-school board committee charged with finding a more equitable and presumably cost-effective way to fund benefits – primarily health insurance – for all the county and school division’s 225-plus employees.
The board agreed to ask Jeffrey Sabol of Sperryville to serve as a citizen representative on the committee (and Gary Light, a Castleton resident and county planning commission member, to serve as his alternate).
Superintendent Aldrige Boone also requested, and received, the board’s permission to seek a volunteer from the school system’s staff, most likely its teaching staff, to provide possible representation to the committee, which is scheduled to meet later this month.
“I think the staff should have a say,” Boone told the board, referring to the committee’s deliberations. A study group was suggested by the supervisors during this spring’s budget hearings when the county’s employee health-insurance costs became a much-debated issue – as did the fact that the plan for most of the school division’s 170 employees covered more and came with a significantly heftier employer contribution than the plan offered to the county’s 55 or so contract employees. Boone added: “The staff woke up late [in the budget process], but they definitely woke up.”
He was referring to the protests by several teachers and other staff members after the supervisors decided to make a roughly 30 percent cut in the school’s requested budget increase for 2012-2013, an increase that would have spelled a 5-cent increase in the property tax rate (per $100 of assessed value) and was driven largely by state-imposed increases in local funding of the state’s public employees’ pension system.
Among the results were decreases in the school division’s contributions to employee health plans, which will still be covered at 100 percent for single subscribers (at $722 a month for 12-month employees) but which decrease for those with plans that also cover a child, a spouse or a family.
In 2012-2013, the school division will pay about 64 percent, or $978, of the monthly $1,506 cost of family coverage, according to numbers released at Tuesday’s meeting by Boone. (Last year, single-subscriber monthly premium was $739, and the school board paid $1,271, or 82 percent, of the $1,544 monthly premium for family coverage.)
“They should definitely have a say,” Hitt said. “I mean, we have triple the number of employees than they [the county] have . . . I’m happy to discuss this, but the person they [the supervisors] appointed to this committee, this was his main platform –”
“– I think we should agree to ask the supervisors about staff representation,” school board chair John Lesinski said, gently but firmly interrupting Hitt’s half-finished reference to former school board member Ron Makela of Amissville. Makela lost last November’s Jackson district school board seat election to Hitt – but was chosen last week by the board of supervisors as the citizen representative they would ask to serve on the benefits committee.
Makela, who showed up at an early budget public hearing this spring with multiple copies of his informal but comprehensive study of surrounding school systems’ health insurance costs and coverage plans, is credited with starting the public debate over the school division’s higher-than-average health insurance costs – a cost defended by Boone and others as a necessary expense to gain and keep good teachers in a public school division surrounded by much larger, higher-paying systems in other counties.
When the ensuing discussion slowed, Lesinski turned to Hitt. “Since you seem to have a passion for this issue,” he said, “I make a motion that you be our representative to this committee.”
The motion was seconded and passed unanimously.
In other matters, the board heard a report by high school principal Robert Stump on the progress of window and HVAC replacement projects at the school. “A little bit of weather has pushed us back some,” he said, but noted that despite delays caused by last month’s storm and outages – power was out at the high school from June 30 to July 4, proceeding on generator power for part of that time – the work is only slightly behind schedule and should be finished in time for the start of the school year.