By IVY HERRON
After talking about insurance twice this week in public sessions, the Clay Community School Corporation's Board of Trustees decided to place another bandage on the controversial issue, for now.
At Thursday's meeting, board member Steve Grigsby presented a slightly amended version of Superintendent Dr. Dan Schroeder's original proposal in an effort to stop the administrative and non-certified employees from taking a "second major hit" to their salary and benefit packages.
The board approved the health and vision insurance network change to United Healthcare Network; there will be no salary increases at this time; some plan benefits will change, but it will remain with Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) Trust for coverage and individuals must sign up for insurance coverage before the end of closed enrollment.
The biggest change was regarding stipends. Eligible administrators will be able choose between taking corporation-sponsored insurance or a $15,000 stipend, but not all administrators qualify for a stipend. Only newly hired administrators and administrators who currently choose a stipend, instead of health and vision insurance, can qualify for a stipend.
"This is a mess," board member Len Fischer said about the insurance dilemma. "Typically corporations have 83 percent of their budget set aside for salaries, insurance and benefits -- we were there once. What's the reason we're at 92 percent? It's simple to see its insurance and benefits."
The health insurance problem has led to lively discussions recently.
At the regular September meeting, the board was sidetracked when several administrators in the audience interrupted to say they had not seen information considering a proposal that would effect their salary and benefit packages, and those of non-certified employees.
Clay Community Classroom Teachers Association President Russ True confirmed the group has already accepted the new physicians network and agreed to remain on the current ISTA insurance plan.
Superintendent Dr. Dan Schroeder reminded the board a decision had to be made quickly because the window of approval for the new physician's network only lasts until Sept. 30.
The lengthy discussion delayed the decision as the board opted to continue discussion on the matter at a Monday special session before the scheduled budget hearing.
The board wanted to allow the employees effected by the decision to be able to ask questions and have input in the matter.
On Monday, several administrators listened to the discussion with great interest as the board agreed the financial bottom line is the insurance plan has to change.
Frustrated by always being the first group of employees to face cutbacks and do without salary increases, many administrative personnel continued to refuse comment after the meeting.
The changes in their insurance is considered by many administrators to be a pay cut -- a lack of appreciation for four years of taking it on the chin, working without a salary increase, benefit cuts and assuming more responsibilities while taking on a larger work load.
"No one in administration, that I know of, has said 'no' to the extra workload these past few years," Curriculum Director Kathy Knust said at the meeting.
Knust says the number of people working at the administrative level is half of what it was when she started working at the administrative level in the corporation.
"We have all taken on several jobs and we do the work. If (the board) came to us and said, 'here it is ... we're all in this together ... here's what we can do and can't do,' that would be fine. I can live with that, we all live with that, let's move on," Knust said. "But now, I took on all this extra work, extra responsibility and my reward for doing that is a cut in my salary and benefits."
Knust, like many administrators, understands the harsh reality facing the board.
"I don't want to be in their shoes," she said. "I wouldn't want to make the tough decision they're facing Thursday."
The board's decision means the cost increase for health insurance premiums in 2006 will be 20 instead of 25 percent.
"We have to do something about this mess. We've spent $1.63 million in insurance premiums the past four years," board member Terry Barr said. "We could have used that money to give everyone a 2 percent raise."
The decision doesn't end the controversial debate. Facing a possible 35 percent increase in premiums in 2007, the board has requested the insurance issue be placed on the February 2007 agenda.