Once again, the Boscobel School Board put off a decision on the next health insurance provider for district employees.
An impassioned plea from District Administrator Dr. Stephen Smith for more time and several tear-filled testimonials from teachers swayed the board to table the matter at Tuesday's emotional meeting.
"You can't put dollar signs on people's health," said Michelle Streicher, special education teacher. "Remember, it's not all about dollars; it's about people, too."
The board could have chosen to go with Dean as the insurance provider. The Dean plan, discovered for the district by its health insurance broker TRICOR, would offer the district $550,000 in savings at a time when money is tight and possibly offer employees savings in major medical.
However, employees would lose the freedom to select their family doctors and their clinics.
Emotions running high
Even before the insurance matter was debated by the board emotions were running high.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Shayla Pickett, special education administrative assistant, talked about how, at a recent meeting, she had been forcefully called "out of order" by board president Charles Clarke when she had gotten up to speak.
She had been unaware that the board had decided on a new set of rules for public comments. Those who wished to speak had to sign in before the meeting and submit a note to the board secretary declaring what item on the board's agenda they wanted to address.
Pickett, who went through board policy and state law regarding public comments during her talk, said on Tuesday that she simply wanted to publicly recognize a student at the previous board meeting when she was ruled out of order.
"I don't know if I've ever been treated with such disrespect," said a tearful Pickett. "I felt really bad. For people who don't work at the school, it was very embarrassing."
She cited that board policy allowed for 20 minutes of public comment at regular board meetings and wondered why the full time wasn't allotted to the public.
Also, Pickett commented that she also would have been able to offer some advice on an agenda item last month relating to money left over from the Microsoft lawsuits if the agenda had made it clear that the board was going to vote on Plato Alternative Education Program Software, NWEA MAPS testing online program, the Skyward School Business Suite and Kompascare SBS/Medicaid Reimbursement software.
When she was finished, the audience of about 25 to 30 people erupted in applause, with third grade teacher Steve Wacker saying, "It's long overdue."
Board President Charles Clarke thanked Pickett for her comments.
Before the board tackled the health insurance issue, Dr. Smith, during his administrative report, shared some personal feelings regarding the matter.
Last spring, after the furor over Gov. Walker's Budget Repair Bill was settling down, district employee unions and Dr. Smith decided to look at different health insurance options to see if going with a different provider would result in any savings.
The discussions have continued into this school year. Recently, the board chose not to enter into an agreement with Dean, despite being presented with the possibility of $550,000 in savings to the district.
"The board passed on the Dean opportunity, and it would have been an easy thing to do, with people still off on summer vacation," said Dr. Smith. "I know the employees understand that $550,000 is quite a bit of savings. A lot of the employees appreciate that."
Complicating matters is the fact this is the third and final year of the district receiving $600,000 from a referendum that allowed the district to gather that money from taxpayers to help with costs.
And the $550,000 in savings would reduce the need for the district to seek another similar referendum.
But, then there's the matter of whether the Dean plan is comparable to previous plans.
"I've run the numbers," said Clark Jillson, board member. "I'm not convinced that it's apples to apples."
Dr. Smith talked about how he and his wife had already dealt with a health emergency in their family when his wife had cancer.
"We have families who are in extreme situations - families who are fighting cancer and back problems," said Dr. Smith. "I can tell you my voice got shaky and my body trembled when I woke up in the morning and I looked over and saw the sheet moving up and down.
"I'd be a widower today if we hadn't had good health care coverage," added Dr. Smith.
Going on, Dr. Smith talked about how the district budget had been balanced "on the backs of the employees."
He talked about how a secretary in the administrative office who was making $25,000 a year is taking a $4,000 hit to her salary because of new laws requiring employees to contribute a certain percentage of their income to their health insurance and retirement.
While studying the issue, Dr. Smith said he's come across a couple of options he'd like to explore further. But, he cautioned that if the district passes on a plan with the kind of savings Dean offers, the likelihood of layoffs increases.
Still, Dr. Smith recognizes that what matters most to employees is "choice."
Fourth grade teacher Deb Nordloh addressed the board about the issue. Fighting back tears, she talked of her family's history of heart trouble, cancer and diabetes.
One of the issues with Dean is that employees would pay a higher deductible under its plan.
"The raising of the deductible can't be overwhelming for families," said Nordloh.
Staying healthy is a matter of preventative care, she said, and Nordloh stated that the cost of her maintenance drugs would go up under the Dean plan.
"How can you tell me I'm saving money when I'd be spending $1,200 a year on medications when I'm only paying $80 to $100 now," said Nordloh.
She also talked about how her husband works in Dubuque, Iowa, and that Dean does not have doctors in that area. So, he would have to see doctors in Wisconsin, and that wouldn't offer the same kind of convenience they enjoy now.
"That's time his patients are not going to get to see him," said Nordloh.
Other teachers also commented on the matter, including sixth grade teacher Rich Schneider. He wondered if the district did go with Dean, would it find out later that Dean's plan is unworkable for the district.
"I can't believe there is nothing else out there," said Schneider.
Ultimately, the board decided to table a decision for another month.
Building and grounds
Dr. Smith also reported Tuesday that work on the high school service road was completed.
The project had come in under budget by $4,000. However, during the project, it was discovered that some wiring work was needed. When the electrical work was finished, Dr. Smith said, "We came out close to even - that is, within $1,000."
Also on Tuesday, the board voted to provide $9,000 for a new pole vault mat.