Board declines benefits advice

The Rappahannock County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night (Oct. 9) to decline the health-care benefits recommendations proposed by the Joint Benefit Studies Group, an ad hoc committee composed of county supervisor and school board members, school and county staff and citizens.

The Joint Benefits Study Group (JBSG) had recommended that both the county and school division continue to subsidize single-subscriber coverage but cut back on dependent-care coverage subsidies to help manage rising costs. The proposed benefits changes have become a contentious issue lately; the board’s meeting drew a crowd of about 30, most of them teachers and other school employees.

Shannon Grimsley, the school division’s instructional coordinator, petitioned the board to reject the recommendations, saying that the proposed benefits package will cost more in the long run as employees leave. “You have to send the message that you value your employees and their families,” Grimsley said.

High school teacher Karen Sanborn echoed those sentiments, reminding the board that county employees have issues with the proposed changes, too. “They [county employees] are fighting this just as a much as we are,” said Sanborn, who also pointed out that many teachers would, in effect, drop several steps down on the pay scale if the revisions passed. Sanborn said the changes would cost her a full seven steps on the pay scale, taking her from a step 17-level salary, to a step 10-level salary.

“We are steadily eliminating families from this community,” said teacher Rich Hogan. “This plan would shut the door in their face.”

After closing the public-comment period, board members discussed the benefits changes among themselves. Vice-chair Aline Johnson of Piedmont district spoke first, saying that she understood the teachers’ concerns. “Our benefits package was the best thing for teachers . . . This is just too much [change], too fast,” said Johnson, to murmurs of approval from the audience.

Amy Hitt, the board’s Jackson district representative, stressed the need to re-examine the teachers’ step program to ensure they’re fairly compensated, but recommended that the board vote to reject the proposed benefits changes.

Chairman John Lesinski said that he was concerned about acknowledging the recommendations, but pointed out that these benefits changes “are just one piece of the puzzle.” Lesinski also said he appreciated the effort made by the Joint Benefits Study Group, and wondered if the school board could acknowledge the group’s advice without accepting it. “Just because we acknowledge it doesn’t mean that’s the way it’ll be next spring,” said Lesinski.

School superintendent Aldridge Boone disagreed with Lesinski, and told the board that accepting the proposed recommendations was the same as instituting them. “If you don’t accept their recommendations,” continued Boone, “you have to come up with an alternative and say how it’s going to be instead.”

Board members Chris Ubben and Paul Brown both said they felt a responsibility to balance the benefits package to remain competitive with surrounding counties, while also being fair to current county employees.

The board then voted 5-0 to reject the health-care benefits changes recommended by the committee. The board then passed a second motion to create a new committee to research other benefits packages and report back to the school board in time for its Nov. 13 meeting.