NCSS may change benefits
System asks BOE to reduce amount of premiums paid

COVINGTON - In anticipation of a possible $2.2 million or more in state budget cuts, the Newton County School System is asking the Board of Education to approve a reduction in the school district's portion of state health insurance premiums paid for employees.

NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley is recommending that the school board approve the school system to pay a flat rate of $50 per month on the employee 2009 state health insurance premium instead of the higher premiums it pays now.

"We're not taking the benefit away," said Deborah Robertson, associate superintendent for administration at NCSS, at Tuesday's BOE work session. "State health insurance, even (paying) 100 percent, is still a very, very good deal."

The school board is expected to vote on the recommendation at its Tuesday night monthly meeting.

Currently, the school system pays about $78 per month for employees who were employed with the school system on or before July 1, 2004, and about $58 for those who were employed after June 30, 2004.

Robertson said the board's approval of this change would save the school system about $300,000 in 2009 budgeted expenditures.

She said this change could cost the employees between $1 and more than $43, depending on the type of insurance coverage they choose during open enrollment.

In addition to the $50 flat-rate fee or no change, the school system also presented to the board a third option, which Whatley did not recommend. That option calls for the employees to pay 100 percent of their state health insurance premiums.

Robertson said the school system could save more than $1 million with this option, but employees could be required to pay more than $86 per month as a result.

"This would certainly help offset the $2.2 million of unexpected state cuts," she said, adding that neighboring school systems in Rockdale, Henry and Walton counties require employees to do this. "We think (the $50 flat rate option) is the fairest, saving the school system money and giving the employee benefits as well."

School board chairman Almond Turner voiced concerns of maintaining a competitive school district in terms of attracting and keeping quality employees.

"We have the sole responsibility to look after the taxpayers' dollars," Robertson said. "We did not know ahead of time about the state budget cuts ,... It would have been nice to know ahead of time."

Robertson said this is the "perfect" time for the school system to propose such a change - open enrollment for the state health insurance plan is from Oct. 10 until Nov. 10.

"If a change is going to be made, it is the fairest time," she said. "They can better budget."

Robertson said the school system is thankful to the employees who are making "conscientious efforts" on expenditures they request and making sure the school money they spend is necessary.

"Our employees, they meet the challenge," she said. "They work to do whatever is best for the school system."

According to the recommendation, the school system will review the employee benefit on the state health insurance plan before the 2010 budget is put in place.

The school board is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the board room at the Newton County BOE building, located at 2109 Newton Drive N.E. in Covington.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.