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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 17, 2010

Can the Guilderland school district save more on workers’ health coverage?

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school district’s health insurance committee has recommended a few changes to save money, but it may not be enough for some board members.

The recommendations were presented at last Tuesday’s board meeting.

Board member Colleen O’Connell said she found some of the increases “unacceptable,” citing a 16.6-percent increase for Blue Shield POS, or point-of-service plan.

“We can’t sustain that,” she said. “Those of us who live in the private sector are sucking up a lot higher co-pays,” O’Connell went on, while those in the public sector feel insulated.

“I don’t think it’s aggressive enough,” she said of the recommendations.

“The system is out of our control,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders. “We’re not experiencing anything different than any other employers.”

Sanders, along with Lin Severance, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, met six times this school year with the district’s 11 bargaining units.

The longstanding Guilderland committee meets outside of typical contract negotiations to make recommendations on insurance, which the school board then decides whether to adopt or not.

Sanders said that, for the first time this year, the Capital Area Schools Health Insurance Consortium, formed in 1994, issued a request for proposals for third-party administrator services, leading to a change with some savings for next year.

The committee recommended changing the Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan EPO from community-rated to experience-rated, with a $25 office co-pay with dental coverage, so the rate renewal increase is 3.7 percent.

CDPHP recently started offering an experience-rated plan (EPO) option along with the traditional community-rated health-maintenance organization (HMO) plan, Sanders reported.

“We were subsidizing some worse risks in the community pools,” said Sanders.

Amsure Associates analyzed the data, he reported, and found that Guilderland could save 6 percent on premium rate increases or about $250,000 by switching to CDPHP’s experience-rated product.

The health insurance committee recommended continuing, unchanged:

—         Blue Shield PPO with a $20 office co-pay with vision and dental coverage, and a rate renewal increase of 12.4 percent;

—         Blue Shield POS with a $20 office co-pay with dental coverage and a rate renewal increase of 16.6 percent; and

—         Mohawk Valley Physicians HMO with a $25 office co-pay with dental coverage and a rate renewal increase of 12.5 percent.

The committee also recommended no change in plan design for Express Scripts self-insured prescription drug coverage, which is $5 for generic, $10 for brand name, and $25 for non-formulary drugs. The renewal rate is 9.5 percent.

The committee also recommended continuing the CanaRx mail-order prescription drug plan option for brand-name maintenance medications.

Finally, it recommended continuing a Medicare choice plan option for retirees over age 65, including both a PPO and HMO plan for CDPHP.

No religious holidays on school calendar

In a 6-to-3 vote, the board decided not to name any religious holidays in the school calendar, which is mailed out to district families.

There will still be school recess for the Christian holidays of Christmas, which is also a federal holiday; Good Friday; and Easter, and for the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but these days off will not be named in the calendar. No other religions will be recognized.

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo had argued to have other religions listed on a separate page of the calendar, and cited the district’s goal of embracing diversity.

“At the risk of having another editorial in The Altamont Enterprise,” said board member Denise Eisele, referring to the May 27 editorial, “Calendar could put community on the same page” (available online at www.altamontenterprise.com), “religion is a personal thing…It makes it smaller to have it be in a box on a calendar. My religion is in my heart. It’s personal.”

Board member Colleen O’Connell said the district didn’t have to embrace diversity in every document. “I think it’s fraught with peril,” she said of acknowledging religion in the calendar.

Board President Richard Weisz, who along with Fraterrigo and board member Julie Cuneo favored including a list of other religions and their major holidays, said it might make teachers aware before giving assignments if one of their students had an important religious holiday to observe.

One of the people who contacted The Enterprise after the May 27 editorial ran said that, before Guilderland recognized the Jewish High Holy Days, he had sent a notice of pre-file for a lawsuit because his children were penalized, particularly on their sports teams, for being in temple on those days.

“It will be 15 nights out of a calendar month,” said board member Judy Slack of the large number of religious observances.

Other business

In other business at its June 8 meeting, the school board:

— Adopted a revised school calendar that adds a day to the recess on Dec. 23, 2010 so that the end of the year is standardized with all teachers completing their work on June 24, 2011;

— Abolished positions, as dictated by the $87.4 million budget voters approved last month, including a staff developer, a foreign language teacher, a math teacher, a music teacher, two full-time teaching assistants, 31 part-time teaching assistants, 2.5 typist jobs, 4.5 custodial jobs, three bus drivers, one maintenance mechanic, one copy-machine operator, and five elementary-school monitors;

— Received policies to review on candidates and campaigning, programs for students with disabilities, allocation of space for special-education programs and services, independent educational evaluations, impartial hearing officers appointments, corporal punishment complaints, and student conduct on district provided transportation;

— Learned from Assistant superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that Farnsworth Middle School received the Highest Team Achievement plaque from the Math Olympiad, which goes to the top 10 percent of participating schools.

Will Wang was one of 68 students out of 86,877 to win the Lenchner Award for a perfect score.

Wang, Bill Dong, Eric Pasquini, Sean Hourihan, and Youngjun Kim earned gold pins, given to the top 2 percent.

Alex Selsley, Salil Chaudhry, and Michael Zhu earned silver pins, given to the top 10 percent;

— Heard congratulations for Project Lead the Way teachers John Ball, Chris Gockley, and Jim VanHorne on Guilderland High School being officially certified as a pre-engineering program; and

— Met in executive session to discuss potential litigation in a tax case and to discuss a contractual item.

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