School board may use subsidy to lower insurance costs

Sue Guinn Legg • May 11, 2017 at 10:47 PM

Moving into a second year of decreased funding and increased insurance costs, the Unicoi County Board of Education on Thursday agreed to meet in a special workshop next week to hammer out its preliminary 2017-18 budget.

Director of Schools John English told the board that “preliminary” is the key word at this time and the budget figures prepared for them are based on a worst-case funding scenario that is expected to change and possibly improve over the next two months.

According to English, while the school system is slated for a reduction in Basic Education Plan funding, local legislators are involved in discussions that may recoup some of those dollars.

“We’re working now with unclear numbers. On May 11, we don’t know what we will know on June 30. The picture you’re looking at now could look better in a month. It won’t look worse. What you’re looking at now is worst-case.”

However, English said, a major shift in how the system funds health insurance for its 289 employees appears likely. English said the system’s insurance broker is recommending an across-the-board insurance subsidy rather than the full premium payments the system is currently paying at an annual cost of more than $2.3 million.

“We are in the second year of insurance increases and funding and enrollment decreases. So we will have to take a hard look at what we offer,” English said. “In every meeting I’ve been in, teachers and support staff have told me ‘it’s been too good to be true for a long time.’ ”

Board Vice Chairman Steve Willis said he would be willing to consider the flat subsidy, or as another option, a percentage premium payment by the school system.

Board Chairman Tyler Engle noted personnel costs account for 77 percent of the school board’s expenditures and said he would also like to look at the fixed subsidy.

English said the system’s insurance broker is available to meet with the board to go over the options.

While finalization of the budget will precede the need for the board to make a decision on how to proceed on health insurance before the end of the calendar year, board member Kathy Thomas noted employee insurance enrollment will open in October.

In other business Thursday, the board recognized a long list of Unicoi County High School Career Technical Education students for outstanding performance in state and regional competition, including four students who will advance to national competitions over the summer.

Placing first and second, respectively, at the state level in the Technical Student Association’s remote flight endurance competition, Cassi Foster and Trey Hatcher will go on to represent UCHS in national TSA competition in Orlando, Fla., in June.

Samuel Morillo, who placed second in state TSA architectural computer design, will also be competing in the nationals in Orlando. And Isaiah McCoury, who finished first in the state’s Information Technology Services competition, will represent Unicoi County in national competition in Louisville, Ky.

The board also gave special recognition to the school system’s Coordinated School Health Supervisor Regina Harrell, who was recently named Tennessee’s Coordinated School Health Supervisor of the Year.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.


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