OPINION: School Board on right path

 

OPINION: School Board on right path

 

Date: April 20, 2011
by: The Observer Staff

 
 

The Manatee County School Board is on the right track. But it will take spinal fortitude to do the right thing.

That right thing is to make the district’s health-insurance fund solvent and watch out for the pocketbooks of taxpayers. The teachers and other employees have their unions, and the non-union employees will get pay and benefit changes mirroring what the union members get.

But taxpayers have only the School Board watching out for them. And taxpayers have been hurting badly for several years and need some protection from better organized spenders of public money — public-sector unions.

So it is heartening to see that the School Board appears to be careening into the right decision to follow a three-year plan to put its insurance fund in the black again.

That’s critical because the school district is self insured. Employees pay premiums into the fund, and the fund pays healthcare costs through various health plans from which an employee can choose. That fund went from a $2.1 million surplus in in 2006 to a $700,000 loss the following year. As of the end of 2010, it generated a $9.4 million loss.

That’s not sustainable.

So the School Board plans to increase health-insurance premiums enough to cover expected costs and erase the deficit within three years. It is a responsible direction. Even though the district is going to review all of its options for employee healthcare coverage in 2012 — including remaining self insured, using brokers and other options — it needs to make the self-insurance fund whole.

The Manatee Education Association, representing teachers and paraprofessionals, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 1584, representing the district’s non-teachers, said the School Board was asking too much. Finally, the district declared impasse, and now we are in the hearings stage.

In the end, the School Board has the authority to impose a contract. The question is: Does it have the will to impose a contract that is fair to taxpayers, not just school employees?

Last week, the School Board voted to delay increasing premiums on non-union employees until the impasse proceedings with the unions are complete. That makes sense, because it would be a bookkeeping nightmare, plus unfair, to have some start paying the necessary increase before others.

The encouraging part is that the 4-1 vote was tacit approval of the three-year plan to make the insurance fund solvent through higher premiums. That cannot be done until the contracts are approved, perhaps in June. As some board members and the superintendent pointed out, the vote suggests the majority of the board is ready to implement the three-year plan.

But it is disheartening to hear how one School Board member views the issue.

During the discussion to vote not to vote yet, School Board member Julie Aranibar said she thinks the three-year plan is based on bad information — which reflects the unions’ thinking — and that she was “very concerned we are asking people for more money for something we’ve proven has not been solvent.”

But the obvious reason it is not solvent is because premiums have not been high enough to pay for healthcare costs. The way to make it solvent is to increase premiums.

The School Board has brought this upon itself with unnecessarily generous benefits. So now it has the responsibility to fix it — without more taxpayer subsidization — and appears intent on doing so.

It just needs a majority with the backbone to make the right decision over the political decision.

It appears to have it.

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Currently 2 Responses

  • 1.
  • I do wish your reporters would get all the facts. The previous School board was a rubber stamp machine for the Present Administrative Stave,and it blotted and entrenched spending policies. It has taken months to force the disclosure of public information.

    I wish people would show up at the meetings. It was through the State Auditing process that fact where forced into the open. When the new members asked for further info they were stoned walled.

    Please remember the the 5 w"s of true journalism. Truth and Integrity are what the People of Manatee need to understand the true extent of the Policies need to protect the teachers and the public. The administration to reduce their blotted staffs and salaries and their devotion to cover up.
  •  
  • James martire
    Mon 2nd May 2011
    at 2:46pm
  • 2.
  • You didn't like Ms. Aranibar's position. Ms Aranibar joined the board in November 2010. The health care debacle was already that 9 Million in arrears in September. She did not create this mess. You also forgot to mention that the board created over a 2 1/2 Million Dollar deficit in the workman's compensation self insured fund. What this tells me is that they don't belong in the insurance business and are unable to manage them as both funds were in serous shortfall. That I believe is what Ms. Aranibar was stating. I personally informed a member of the board that the premiums were the problem. Oh no, it's the claims that are the problem. Duh, when the outgoing exceeds the incoming and you don't change the incoming for five years your the problem. I will bet that your reporter didn't research self insured funds. The board could have actually hedged their bet with the management and purchased an insurance policy that would have taken care of the excess claims. But they would have had to have all required records filed with the state (ah the insurance commission report that they didn't file for three years against law) to be able to purchase that policy.So fill that pipe your smoking because I know they don't have the backbone to advocate for the public. It is their family, the district employees that mean the most to Manatee County School District and it's majority board. Where our students outcomes are, they don't seem that interested unless it's those winning football or basketball games or winining competitions.When have you heard them worried about their graduation rate? Students not on grade level? When they have that conversation with Mr. McGonagal then I might have some postitive thoughts.
  •  
  • can't believe it
    Sun 1st May 2011
    at 6:24pm
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