Press-Republican

March 24, 2013

P'burgh City School talks health-insurance costs

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Health insurance is under the microscope at Plattsburgh City School District.

At a recent School Board session, district resident Walter Chmura asked that the district allow experts to give a public presentation on the differences between the two plans available to employees, as well as the processes involved in making a switch from the current Plan A to Plan B.

He had urged the board over the past several weeks to consider the switch.

At a meeting last month, board member Fred Wachtmeister had said doing so would have to be negotiated with the district’s unions, but Chmura said he concluded after several emails with district officials that the switch could, in fact, be made unilaterally by the board.

PUBLIC FORUM

Plan B has been a topic of discussion during the district’s last few contract negotiations, District Superintendent James “Jake” Short said. However, the fact that the cost differential between Plan A and Plan B has continued to increase over time and is now nearing 20 percent warrants further discussion. 

In addition, he noted, he feels there is genuine interest among school employees to understand the two plans, as well as mounting questions from the public on the potential for the district to switch plans and the consequences of doing so.

Short said it would be best for the school to host a health-insurance information session, at which Steve Locey of Locey and Cahill LLC, the consulting firm that works with the district’s health-care consortium, could provide facts and answer questions.

The event would not be like a board meeting, where there is limited time for public comment, he said, but an open gathering where all attendees sit together for a presentation, and anyone who wishes may ask questions and provide comments.

“We can at least get this information out on the table and open to the public and clear to our eyes, and then decisions can be made going along,” Short said.

The board expressed support for the idea, and member Steve Krieg said he felt it would be foolish for the district not to learn more about its health-insurance options if there is potential to save money.

“We wouldn’t be good financial stewards if we didn’t look carefully at it,” he said, “so I think we should have a forum ... hopefully, we’ll get some good input from the public.”

AWAITING STATE BUDGET

Short had said earlier this month that the district was anticipating a $1.2 million budget gap for next school year, though that figure was dependent on the board approving a 2.5 percent tax-levy increase and the use of $1.9 million in fund balance.

At last week’s meeting however, he said that gap stood to decrease as a result of changes to the public-school aid in the yet-to-be-passed state budget and certain costs districts must bear.

Without knowing any details yet, he shelved budget discussions at the session. He said he expected to gain better understanding over the weekend of how the state’s budgetary decisions would affect Plattsburgh City School’s finances.

Still, Short said, “my goal is to see if I can still offer to you a budget that does not reduce any current standing program that we have.”

PRINCIPAL TO RETIRE

Short did, however, ask the board to indicate the amount of increase in the tax levy it felt appropriate for the coming school year.

Though the district’s levy limit has been calculated at 5.33 percent, many board members either said they felt comfortable with a 2.5 percent increase or would prefer a lower number, while they also wished to preserve programs.

“I’d like to see zero percent (increase) in the tax levy, but I don’t want to see programs cut more than they’ve already been cut,” Krieg said.  

Wachtmeister, however, said he would be comfortable setting the tax levy at the district’s limit.  

It was also announced at the meeting that Stafford Middle School Principal Patricia Amo will retire from her post, which she has held for nine years, on July 2. 

Short said her departure would result in “the loss of a great person” from the district.

Email Ashleigh Livingston:alivingston@pressrepublican.com