Benefits tweaked; superintendent praised

The Rappahannock County School Board voted at its monthly meeting last week (Nov. 13) to accept the health-care insurance recommendations of its own independent health benefits committee, a move that board members believe will give staff members with family coverage a slight break on premiums in exchange for accepting a higher deductible.

The board also heard public support for Rappahannock County Public School Superintendent Aldridge Boone, whose two-year contract expires June 30.

The meeting began with a public comment period, during which several in attendance voiced their support for Boone. Janet Davis, owner of Hill House Native Plants and Nursery and designer of the elementary school’s new memorial garden, said working with the superintendent on the project, and as a parent of a second-grader, has left a positive impression.

“I’m impressed with his ability to squeeze the turnip to the nth degree,” said Davis, who also noted that students actually know who Boone is, which is rare among superintendents.

“I hope you will stay and finish what you started,” said Linda Petty of Amissville. Petty said she moved her children to Rappahannock County Public Schools two years ago and has been “thrilled” with the education system, in particular with Boone and instructional coordinator Shannon Grimsley.

Steve Carroll of Slate Mills, a member of the school-focused Headwaters Foundation board, said he was “stressed” to learn there might be a problem between Boone and some members of the school board. “People of good faith can work together,” Carroll continued, urging both sides to set aside any potential differences for the good of the children. “Dr. Boone has been a dynamic force for good and . . . a breath of fresh air . . . It would be a terrible mistake not to invite him back.”

School board chairman John Lesinski said later that Boone’s contract expires next June but that the board owes him an evaluation by the end of the calendar year. “Word must have gotten out that we were in the process of his evaluation,” Lesinski said, referring to the brief but heartfelt outpouring at the meeting. The decision of whether or not to renew Boone’s contract was a personnel matter and thus private, Lesinski said, noting that no decision has been made. Other board members contacted deferred comment to Lesinski.

Gary Light, of the Stonewall-Hawthorne district, echoed Carroll’s remarks and praised Boone’s service to the school, kids and parents of the county. “The [Board of] Supervisors dealt you a tough blow [with the budget],” Light said. “Dr. Boone addressed a bad situation in the least bad way.” Light also noted that the position of superintendent is a “revolving door” across the country, before reminding the board that “continuity has value.”

The board members thanked the public for their responses and input before closing the public comment period and moving onto other items, including the revised health-care benefits plan put forth by a committee formed after the board earlier voted to decline the changes recommended by the supervisors’ and school board’s Joint Benefits Study Group (JBSG).

Jackson district board member Amy Hitt, who served on both committees, said she believes the new plan “gives to everyone,” as well as managing to provide excellent coverage for all subscribers.

There are three levels of coverage available to subscribers – a KeyCare 500, 200 and a point-of-service plan, each offered through Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield; the numbers refer to the plan’s deductible (or the amount a subscriber has to pay before the insurance coverage begins). Under the new plan, the KeyCare 500 plan is the default option. Single subscribers will continue to have costs paid by the school division, while employees with a family plan pay 30 percent of the monthly premium (the school system pays the remaining 70 percent).

As an employee’s deductible increases, their share of the monthly premium decreases. Hitt said later that the new plan is cheaper for employees overall, and that the committee worked hard to find solutions that made everyone happy.

“We had people with each type of [insurance] plan on the [independent health benefits] committee,” said Hitt, who noted that the new plan allows employees to keep their benefits, which is what attracts people working in Rappahannock County. “People seem happy about it . . . we also tried to make it ‘equitable,’ as the board of supervisors pointed out.”

The important news, according to the board, is that all three options are good plans and help employees retain many of their benefits without costing the school system too heavily. “This is the best we can do to make it work for everybody,” said Lesinski. The board approved the new plans unanimously, 5-0.

The changes are a part of the superintendent’s proposed 2013-14 school budget, which would still undergo final approval from the board of supervisors, so, at the earliest, they would go into effect at the start of the 2013-14 school year.

The board members recently returned from the Virginia School Board Association’s (VSBA) Annual Convention in Williamsburg this week and will have a full report at their Dec. 11 meeting. The convention focused on providing school divisions with the insight, tools and knowledge needed to survive the ongoing budget cuts inflicted on Virginia’s public education system.

“School board members are being faced with the most difficult fiscal decisions ever seen during our time on the board,” said Lesinski. “Having the chance to network with others from across the state, hear about what other schools are doing to survive this economic crisis and learn from experts in the education community is a priceless opportunity. We are not alone, we are not the only ones struggling, and by collaborating and learning from others, we have a better chance of minimizing the impacts of these horrific cuts to education.”

Approximately 1,000 school governance leaders attended the convention, participating in more than 51 workshops, clinics and critical issues sessions focused on topics such as closing the achievement gap, the role of division leadership and successful education foundations.

“I am eager to share what I learned at the VSBA convention this year,” said Hitt. “The convention is a great investment for our community because it allows our board to continue learning about nationwide and statewide trends, meet and learn from key policy officials and take back new best management practices for our schools that will improve our students’ education.”