School board weighs benefits

At its meeting last week (Sept. 11), the Rappahannock County School Board spent most of its time discussing the implications of impending changes to the health-care coverage of county employees, including school employees. Though nothing was officially decided – and likely won’t be until a decision has to be made before the 2013 school year begins – the talk was extensive.

The main proposed changes to coverage are outlined in a report filed in August by the Joint Benefits Study Group, an ad hoc committee composed of county supervisor and school board members, school and county staff and citizens. The report establishes that the benefits enjoyed by employees in Rappahannock County are among the best around. “Benefits in neighboring local governments have decreased, in general,” says the report.

The county currently pays the entire cost of health-care coverage for a single subscriber, paying varying partial shares of spouse and dependent coverage. School superintendent Aldridge Boone told the school board that this arrangement makes it difficult for the school to budget properly, since it isn’t known how many faculty members will subscribe to single- and dependent-care plans until the start of the school year.

The report filed by the Joint Benefits Study Group proposes a new plan, which would offer subscribers a minimum of three plans: a low-, mid- and high-level deductible plan. (The deductible is the amount of money that must be paid out of pocket by the subscriber before the insurance company will begin covering any expenses.)

According to the report, employees who choose the high- or mid-level deductible plan will receive “100% of the single subscriber coverage, plus an increment to apply toward dependent coverage.” Those who choose the low-level deductible plan will still receive full single single-subscriber coverage, but any additional coverage will be the employee’s responsibility.

“It will be a cafeteria-style plan,” said John Lesinski, chairman of the school board, in a phone interview. “It will be up to each employee to choose the coverage that’s right for them.”

These changes will also unify county employees under one plan, ensuring that everyone employed by the county receives the same benefits. “We cannot sugarcoat the effect of this,” reads the report. “Employees will be asked to pay more for their highest benefit health care . . . our neighboring counties [have] already reach[ed] this same result, and . . . we feel we must do the same.”

Lesinski stressed that nothing has been decided yet, and that options are still being considered. “There’s still a lot of information being gathered,” he said. To that end, Lesinski said that Boone held a meeting with the teaching staff last week to explain these changes to them in person.

Lesinski also said that the board plans to examine teachers’ salaries, specifically the salary steps. The way the county is structured, teachers’ salaries are based on current pay and length of service. Lesinski said that some teachers have been at a certain step for far too long, a point also raised in the meeting by Jackson district board member Amy Hitt.

“We have teachers who have been stuck on the same step for years,” said Hitt.

“This new health care plan is just one piece of the puzzle,” said Lesinski. “We have to take a look at the step program too.”