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Opinion
East County Wed May 18, 2011 3 years ago

MY VIEW: School board violating state law

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by: Julie Aranibar Guest Columnist

In response to the April 20, 2011, editorial, “School Board on right path,” I voted “no” on this issue for two reasons.

First is that either a “yes” or “no” vote locked the Manatee County School Board into moving forward on a three-year insurance repayment plan. The Florida statutes require a balanced budget and we do not have that in place when we carry debt. We also have not filed the insurance plan each year as required by law for self-insured funds and we are required to have a reserve fund for the self-funded insurance plan which is not in place.

Last September, the previous board voted to move forward on a three-year payment plan for the deficit based on increasing premiums. These projections were based on consultant reports, which were contracted by the superintendent and with the parameters and information provided by the superintendent. We have not had an independent audit of the present plan and what would be required to bring us to compliance, and we have not compared what is available in the non-self-insured types of plans.

 In December, we received a report from the Auditor General of Florida warning of the deficiencies and immediate compliance and remedies required to which we have not adhered. Since this report came after the vote of a previous board, I requested an agenda item to allow each board member to be on record and requested a workshop on insurance to best understand the situation we are in and the options available.
Second, because we are not allowed by law to enter into deficit spending, delaying the paying of premiums only increases the present deficit and again, we are not allowed by law to do this.

For years, board members have relied on the presentations of the superintendent and the opinion of the school board attorney. I am not sure who has informed the board that it is OK to do what has been done, but in checking with the Department of Insurance, Department of Education and Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who has served on school boards and is our current senator on Education Committees, not one agrees with what we have done in Manatee County and all have warned me that as an elected official, I am personally liable for any malfeasance.

Manatee is the only county in the state that has a self-funded insurance plan that is not funded and not valid and not filed each year with the state and running in a deficit of close to $10 million. That is not only illegal but also is the definition of malfeasance and can cause elected officials to be removed from office and face trial and jail if convicted. It also causes the district to be placed into a receivership by the state, which comes at additional costs to taxpayers, not to mention the disruption to the district.

In closing, the employer, the school district, has a fiduciary responsibility to provide the benefit of health care and what has been lacking in the past few years is a review of plans which might bring these benefits at lower cost to employees and tax payers. We should always use funds wisely and in a time of decreasing funds we owe the staff and taxpayers the options of the best plans that work in our present budget, and we have not done so to date.

Thank you for the information printed on this topic. It has been an issue for four years, and there is a board in place that understands action is required. I am not sure if we all agree on what that action should be, but we will be working on this as we move through the budget process in these next weeks. My position is to have this solved in one year and to reduce spending and for a reduction in non-instructional staff as indicated by the Budget Committee Report.

Julie Aranibar is a Lakewood Ranch resident and a member of the Manatee County School Board.

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