At Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo said he understood concerns of non-certified (non-teaching) employees, as state officials recently announced financial support of school district employee health insurance would decrease.
“We do the best that we can for these folks and they certainly have the right to be nervous,” Petruzielo said Thursday. “We’ve complained that we don’t really have a lot of options but we expect to explore every option that is available to us. … We’re going to do everything we can to try and make sure those folks land on their feet.”
After taking effect Oct. 11, 2012, changes to the state health benefit plan by the Department of Community Health authorize local school boards 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.
The district sent a letter to all classified employees Thursday to assure them no recommendation or decision has been made at this time and there is no need for employees to make immediate decisions about benefits or retirement.
“No decisions will be made until we know what the options are,” Petruzielo said. “And when we know what the options are, there will be additional communication so we can determine what the fiscal, operational and programmatic impact would be for each option that we consider.”
However, Petruzielo said the district doesn’t have the dollars it would take to maintain the status quo.
“We’ve had a $12 million increase from the state in premiums that we as the employer pay for the benefits for our classified employees just in the last 18 months,” Petruzielo said.
Petruzielo said he has received support from board members in pursuing every option available and seeking out options that would have the least-damaging impact on employees and their families.
“The board recognizes that this is not just a tremendous financial burden for the school system, but also it’s a tremendous financial burden for employees,” he said.
Petruzielo added the district plans to work with other metro Atlanta systems and state officials. Board members previously brought up the issue to the local delegation a meeting last week, but little support was offered by the local lawmakers
“I think before it’s all over, everybody’s going to be at the table trying to figure out what can happen,” Petruzielo said. “No one wants to hurt bus drivers, custodians (and) technologists.”
He went on to recognize that while teachers may get a lot of media attention, they could not do their jobs as efficiently without the work of those non-certified employees.
He also argued if the state health plan continues to be underfunded, it could also present a problem for certified employees.
“There may have to be a fundamental restructuring to the program at the state level,” he said, adding the public sector used to be known for affordable health plans but private companies are now getting better rates.
Board member Kelly Marlow thanked Petruzielo for addressing the issue in a timely manner.
“I think it’s important to let the professional staff at every level know that we hear them and that we understand what it is that we’re saying and we’re going to do our very best,” Marlow said.