Insurance mandate looms

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Beginning in 2015, the federal Affordable Care Act will require school districts employing more than 50 full-time staff members to offer a year of health insurance coverage to any employee working more than 30 hours per week on average during a school year, Superintendent Randall Earwood said at Monday’s Socorro school board meeting. In 2015, the district will have to offer health insurance to some substitute teachers and temporary workers — such as coaches, he said. Once an employee accepts the coverage, the district must pay its share of the employee’s premiums for the next 12 months. If the employee no longer works enough hours to afford his share of the cost, the district will also be responsible for that portion of the premium. In effect, the district may end up being a collection agency.

“Once we offer them insurance and the district pays their portion, we in a sense become a bill collector,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to collect the employee’s share of the premium.”

The district’s current health insurance costs just under $2 million per year at present; the addition of the estimated 40 temporary and part-time employees would increase the yearly cost about 17 percent, district business manager Donald Monette said. The penalty the district could be fined for not offering health insurance to just one eligible employee ranges from $540,000 to as much as $810,000, Earwood said.

To avoid the whole insurance problem, the district could limit substitutes’ and coaches’ work weeks to under 30 hours, but that would create problems for students when teachers are out on extended leave, he said. Shuffling teachers in and out of classrooms every week to keep employee hours down could cause harm.

“It doesn’t do our kids any good,” he said.

Another option is to hire full-time permanent substitutes, either at each school site or for the district, but the demand for substitutes varies depending upon teacher absences. The law hasn’t really developed a strategy to deal with the special needs of school districts that have a responsibility to provide consistency in classrooms when teachers are absent, but need flexibility, he said.

Because employers need to start tracking each employee’s hours from the date they begin working to determine eligibility for health insurance, the district must decide how to comply with the health care law this January, Earwood told the board.

In other matters:

• Because of internet problems, the Developmental Reading Assessment II Plus, a computer-based individualized reading assessment for elementary students, will continue at Parkview, but not Midway and San Antonio schools, Associate Superintendent Anton Salome said. The two outlying schools will only be administering the state-mandated Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) reading assessment. The DRA II Plus gives more data about each child’s reading performance than the DIBELS, but requires good internet conductivity, which parts of Parkview and the two outlying schools presently lack. The district has hired a technical support company to look into the problem, Earwood said. Board president Ann Shiells said Parkview teachers are complaining of inadequate training. Salome said Parkview’s three Title I teachers are available to train teachers. A letter explaining the district’s elementary reading assessment program’s status will be sent home to families by Friday, Earwood said.

• Superintendent Randall Earwood’s annual evaluation was postponed until the January meeting because board member James Chavez was not present. According to board policy, a full board must be present for the evaluation to go forward. Chavez was absent because of a medical problem.

• Business manager Donald Monette was directed to draft a lease agreement with New Mexico Mid-West CAP allowing the non-profit organization to occupy their district-owned building rent free, but with the some maintenance stipulations.

Monette said the New Mexico Capital Outlay Bureau advised him the zero rent provision does not present any legal problems. Board President Ann Shiells emphasized the need for fairness, since several deserving entities rent district facilities with different maintenance agreements. The board will consider the lease agreement at its next meeting.

• The board approved Sarracino Middle School’s request to swap audio equipment with New Mexico Tech.

• The finance committee reviewed the budget adjustment requests and bank activity; there were no vouchers presented this month.

• Special Education coordinator Donakay Hannagan resigned on Dec. 10; SMS math teacher Kimberly Bihl and educational assistant Christine Guiterrez resigned effective Jan. 6, 2014. Volleyball head coach Joni Mauldin and her husband, assistant volleyball coach J.B. Mauldin, both resigned from their coaching positions.

Mrs. Mauldin will continue teaching at Socorro High School.