School board tackles ‘skyrocketing’ health care costs, changes
by Megan Thornton
mthornton@cherokeetribune.com
January 23, 2013 12:00 AM | 5920 views | 10 10 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CANTON — Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo discussed the “skyrocketing” cost of employee health care following changes to the state health benefit plan at the Cherokee County Board of Education work session Thursday.

Petruzielo talked school board members through a 25-page document produced by district employees, highlighting the impacts of changes to the state health benefit plan that took effect Oct. 11, 2012.

He said the shuffling of high premium costs from the state to local boards continues to drain an already-tightened budget not only for the Cherokee County School District, but school districts throughout the state.

Approved Dec. 8, 2011, the Department of Community Health passed a resolution increasing employer — in this case, the local school board’s—contributions for non-certified employee’s state health insurance an additional $150 per month beginning in fiscal year 2013 to $446.20; $596.20 for fiscal year 2014; and $746.20 for fiscal year 2015.

Under the ruling, school boards are now authorized to remove non-certified employees—including bus drivers, paraprofessionals and technology professionals—from the state health benefit plan after “shopping” for other plans or privatizing those services. Now, only teachers and other certified employees are required to be covered in the state health plan.

“You can’t all of a sudden just decide that just because the premiums are going up that you’re not going to play anymore, that the party is over (and) you’re on your own,” Petruzielo said of the state department’s move.

In 2008, 4,153 CCSD employees participated in the plan, which led to $21.2 million in contributions from the district to the state plan. This past school year, 3,984 employees are participating with just under $28.2 million contributed to the plan, increasing the contribution by $10 million for 500 fewer employees.

For 2013-14, numbers suggest that maintaining the program will cost $35.7 million and the following year will cost $39.8 million.

Petruzielo said the “unbelievable impact” will hit employees throughout Georgia.

“Clearly, with the governor and the state Legislature saying, ‘Gee, there’s not enough money’ to be able to even fund the (Quality Basic Education formula), you could imagine after $50 million of cuts in our operating budget over the last three years alone, you could imagine what kind of a bind a premium increase like this would put the local school board in,” Petruzielo said.

Petruzielo outlined several issues with the plan.

“The policy itself was rushed for approval, few details have been provided and the terminology is ambiguous,” Petruzielo said. “There’s been no public statement basically communicating this to the people who are impacted or will be impacted, or for that matter to policy makers or even local school boards.”

Some of the ambiguity in the measure includes determining the difference between certified and licensed positions and whether both are covered, Petruzielo said. For example, paraprofessionals and technology employees are licensed but are not certified teachers.

“They certainly are licensed and trained in the area that they are providing service,” Petruzielo said.

Petruzielo also took issue with the state board pronouncing local school boards would bear the sole legal responsibility for all healthcare coverage decisions.

“I would beg to differ that when people get sued for being taken out of the state health plan or by connection (out of) alignment with the state retirement plan, which is connected to the state health plan, that everybody’s going to be sued, including the state board of health,” Petruzielo said.

According to the 25-page document, there are 38,000 more students in Georgia schools and 4,500 fewer teachers since 2008. In that time period, there have been $4.4 billion in state austerity budget cuts and a $550 million decrease to zero funds appropriated in the annual state budget for non-certified health coverage. Local boards have also seen a $100 million increase in state-required local contributions for non-certified health coverage.

Board member Michael Geist asked whether the decisions made by the state board in 2012 led to changes in plans moving forward for 2013 for the school district.

“We’ve taken the position that the state of Georgia and the Department of Community Health at the state level is in a far better position to identify the different health plans for state employees than an individual school district or a bunch of individual school districts that are trying to get the best deal possible for their employees,” Petruzielo said.

The documents also included proposed next steps by the district, for which Petruzielo requested feedback from board members. Some of the steps included establishing an ad hoc employees health insurance benefits advisory committee to develop recommendations for cost containment options and collaborating with other school systems.

“I think we ought to try to do everything we can not just as an individual district, but in cooperation with other districts and, for that matter, in cooperation with the legislature and certainly the Department of Community of Health,” Petruzielo said. “We believe the state ought to take the lead in trying to figure out what the options are here. Maybe that’s Pollyanna, but the state is in the best position to try to negotiate a plan whereby these people do not fall through the cracks and there at least is a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel and it’s not just the lights of an oncoming train.”

After the meeting, Chairwoman Janet Read said it’s obvious the state has pushed the burden to the school districts and to the employees.

“Everyone’s premiums have been rising, both employee and employer.” Read said. “We’re going to have to make some hard and fast decisions about what to do with rising costs for our employees.”

Read also had concerns with privatizing services like school bus drivers and lunchroom staff.

“There’s no expectation that those people would remain employees of that company,” she said. “There are no easy answers.”
Comments
(10)
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kpbluebird
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January 23, 2013
The unemployment rate in Cherokee County is going to skyrocket! The majority of the "non certified" employees are only working for the ins benefits, it's Definitely not for the paycheck!
Frank Brennan
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January 23, 2013
Humm. It was just a couple of years ago when I recall someone in Cherokee County School system was found guilt of another DUI--and he kept his job. How much of his salary and benefits would go towards paying the health care costs of bus drivers. Incredible
Robert30102
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January 23, 2013
It's scary to think that people like "Sad Face" is writing state policy that impacts those who care for our children.

Bus drivers, paraprofessionals, school lunch workers, secretaries, custodians and others are the backbone of the school. They perform functions that definitely impact the classroom.

In my years in education I have met precious few who see the school as a "gravy train". Most choose to work in education because they want to be involved in education, to contribute what they can to advance our children.

The ones that should "hit the bricks" are those politicians who promote radical ideas, like those of "Sad Face". The politicians who have repeatedly chosen to under-fund public education are partly responsible for this situation.
Sad Face :- (
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January 23, 2013
"But throwing more money at poorly performing schools has not moved the needle on performance. During the last 40 years, the federal government has spent $1.8 trillion on education, and spending per pupil in the U.S. has tripled in real terms. Government at all levels spent an average of $149,000 on the 13-year education of a high school senior who graduated in 2009, compared to $50,000 (in 2009 dollars) for a 1970 graduate. Despite the dramatic increase in spending, there has been no notable change in student outcomes." - This is an excerpt from "Losing the Brains Race," by Veronique de Rugy, Ph.D., George Mason University.

You ought to try and educate yourself and let go of the failed, liberal orthodoxy you appear to be laboring under.
Acme Fence Co.
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January 26, 2013
Sad Face: the data you quote illustrates the massive increase in state and federal unfunded mandates passed down through the years. When politicians make schools responsible for every aspect of child-rearing, it cuts time out of the instructional day, adds nothing to achievement measures and ups the cost, all in one fell swoop! Example: Thank your (conservative Republican) 2010 Georgia Legislature for Fitnessgram testing- because parents apparently cannot determine when their own child is overweight or obese, so let the schools do it! Federal spending? In Cherokee County, very few federal dollars are for the classroom- these funds are for special needs and at-risk students only.
Reality Check Please
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January 23, 2013
Dear CCSD: Welcome to the real world the rest of us in the private sector deal with. Check that - the rest of us in the private sector aren't all getting across-the-board raises in this economy.

It's interesting that...when it came to Amendment 1, the mantra was 'local control! local control!'. Now when it comes to healthcare expenses, suddenly the State should be in control?

Wait, that's not 'interesting' - that's hypocritical.

Sad Face :- (
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January 23, 2013
Districts should buy a group plan like most employers and anyone who chooses to participate can pay their own premiums, like everyone else who doesn't happen to work for the government. The gravy train has lost its biscuit wheels, and the free ride on the backs of the taxpayers is over.

There is absolutely no employee who is irreplaceable. With the high unemployment rate and never-ending stream of newly-minted collegians, the teachers and any other "public servants" can hit the bricks if they don't find the new reality to their liking.
No clue
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January 23, 2013
The state doesn't allow for districts to shop around for plans. That should be changed for sure.

You sound well spoken for a person with no clue and no kids in school.
Benefits Consultant
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January 23, 2013
Don't confuse Georgia's teacher benefits with that of northern and midwest states. From my extensive experience as a benefits actuary, I can confidently say that Georgia state health benefit plans are weaker and more expensive to the employee than most private employers group plans of the same size. So your assertion of the "gravy-train" is quite inaccurate, at least for the state of Georgia. However, you are correct, the workers are free to go elsewhere for employment. I recommend they do. I also have to say that any private employer would not be allowed to deny only certain full time workers benefits under IRS regs or risk qualified (tax-deductible) plan status. As the schools aren't subject to IRS rules, they can get away with it. This move to withhold benefits from certain full-time staff is quite an asinine thing to do. If this goes through, I hope the staff affected all can find new jobs quickly and quit en masse. I further note that employee benefits are given to attract and retain quality workers. The more marketable and skilled folks will be able to find new jobs, leaving the less skilled and less desirable employees in our schools. Is that what we want?
Me25
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January 23, 2013
Every school employee state wide should quit and let the parent raise, educate and babysit their own children.
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