‘A gesture’

Board approves insurance boost

Eric Cravey
Posted 3/7/18

FLEMING ISLAND – Teachers and staff members enrolled in the Clay County School District health insurance plan will be getting a boost from the district in their next eight paychecks.

The school …

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‘A gesture’

Board approves insurance boost


FLEMING ISLAND – Teachers and staff members enrolled in the Clay County School District health insurance plan will be getting a boost from the district in their next eight paychecks.

The school board voted 5-0 at its March 1 meeting to spend $305,000 to give each health insurance recipient $100 spread out over employee’s next eight pay periods. The move comes as the district braces for a 29 percent hike in health insurance premiums, a year after receiving a 10 percent hike.

Teachers equate the price increase to a money grab as the premium hike will basically wipe out a recent pay raise approved by the board.

“I do appreciate the raise, but I don’t want it to counteract the fact that the insurance is increasing and I have no other options but to use it [health insurance],” said Jenifer Burghart, a teacher at Orange Park High School.

In January, the Clay County Education Association ratified a two-year deal that gives $1,000 each year to Highly-Effective Professional Service Contract teachers, while Highly-Effective teachers will get $1,700 this year and next year guaranteed and Effective Annual Contract teachers get approximately $756.

Burghart asked the board to consider some type of health insurance assistance in support of the pending measure, which was placed on the school board agenda by Janice Kerekes.

Burghart she even looked at pricing for health insurance plans outside of the district and said they were comparable in price, but still characterized that pricing as “astronomical.”

“I love my job. I love what I do, but I have to be able to support my family in the process,” said Burghart, whose husband also teaches in the school district.

Before the vote, board members took about 45 minutes to weigh in on the pros and cons of spending the $305,000. It became apparent that some board members are still haunted by previous year’s actions of dipping into the district’s fund balance from 2013-2016 to balance the budget. However, the district is on track this fiscal year to life the fund balance to 4 percent, a point it has not seen since approximately 2011.

“I’m sitting here feeling like, I want to say absolutely, yes, we want to do everything we can for the teachers, and on the other hand, I’m sitting here saying, we need to be fiscally responsible as a school board member,” said board member Mary Bolla.

School board member Ashley Gilhousen was the next to weigh in and said she echoed Bolla’s thoughts. She appeared to say school security was her top of mind issue as she said, “I’ve been getting hammered with phone calls, emails, conversations – everybody’s concerned about school security.”

Gilhousen said she questioned the real-life impact of the $100 per employee. While she asked for more time to further discuss insurance, she would go on to vote for the measure. Gilhousen also said the $305,000 was “a large portion of our fund balance.”

However, Susan Legutko, assistant superintendent for business affairs, said the move would only take the fund balance down to 3.5 percent, which is still above the state-recommended level of 3 percent.

Meanwhile, Kerekes fired back by saying the board has talked about health insurance all year and that now is the time to take some type of action.

“You’re right. It’s a couple gallons of gas. We’ve had people come before us and say how they can’t afford to buy gas to get to work meaning they are struggling. Not everybody’s making $114,000 a year,” Kerekes said.

Chairman Carol Studdard said she was “torn on this” and asked whether the district would be better off to take the $305,000 and use it as seed money to launch a self-insured plan for the district.

“We are committed to do something about this insurance,” Studdard said. “Our insurance rates are ridiculous. When I first got on this board, there was no [insurance] cost to the employee. Look over the past years what has happened – it is out of control.”

Vice Chairman Betsy Condon said she was concerned that, if the measure passed, the teacher’s union could come back to the board and file “an unfair labor practice” saying the board did not conduct recent contract negotiations in good faith.

“I also feel like it’s a gesture and I’ll be honest with y’all, we need to get to the minimum of what the rest of the state’s doing and it was our fault – ours collectively, Clay County School District” Condon said. “It was our fault we got into the place we did with the fund balance and we’re all having to live with that.”

Before taking a vote, Studdard asked Renna Lee Paiva, CCEA president, if teachers have spoken to her about the proposed expenditure.

“I think it’s very important to them,” Paiva said. “I think you’re right, that it’s a gesture…these people are frustrated. The employees are frustrated, but that $10 is meaningful to us.”

The next monthly school board meeting is April 5 at 6 p.m. at the Teacher Training Center on the campus of Fleming Island High.


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