Trenton school district to absorb employees’ insurance hike

By Crystal Burns

With employees facing steep increases to their health insurance plans for the coming year, the Trenton Special School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved spending $185,500 from reserves to absorb the hike.

January 1 begins the second of a two-year commitment to a private insurance plan that employees voted to enter last November. At the time, school officials said the private plan, which gave employees single and family options from Cigna, showed substantial savings for employees.

Trenton was one of five school districts to choose a private plan. At the board’s October 10 meeting, Director of Schools Tim Haney said that four of the five had made money, but “a couple of bad events” hurt the district’s small pool of policy holders.

“The two-percent raise in salary won’t cover what’s about to hit us in January,” he said.

Based on their plans, employees face premium increases from $68 per month to $196 per month.

To avoid the same jumps, the state is doing a spend down out of its reserves to keep premiums low for another year, Haney said.

He and the district’s HR Director Shannon Parra presented the board with options to help employees prepare for what experts expect to be more increases in 2019. Regardless of the board’s choice, the district needed an additional $88,075.56 for current employees and $4,954.76 for retirees. Based on absorbing 50 percent, 60 percent, 65 percent, or 100 percent, the district would have to pull from $139,000 to $185,500 from reserves.

“We want to help, but [employees] have got to prepare for long term,” said Dee Ann McEwen. “The state went up last year, which led us to go to the private plan. It will go up again next year.”

Haney agreed with McEwen’s assessment.

“We all know the reality of insurance in the United States,” he said.

The district has about $3M in reserve, which Haney said is typically used on employees or building projects. With all infrastructure in good shape and well maintained, he said it made sense to help “a great group” prepare for more increases.

“There’s no better asset for your kids than your teachers,” he said. “It’s a great way to show appreciation for work that’s already been done. This is a great gesture by a really good board.”

Five Points Insurance Agency of Morristown is the district’s insurance broker.

Memorandum of Understanding – Haney and Jason Gulledge, president of Trenton Education Association, announced the signing of a three-year Memorandum of Understanding between the district and association. The agreement expires in October 2020. The board unanimously approved the memo.

Band trip – Peabody Band of Gold Director Steven Westbrook requested and received approval for an overnight trip for the Division I band championship in Murfreesboro on November 3. Westbrook said typically the band charters two buses and makes it a day trip, but based on this year’s performance schedule, the band is better served by staying at a hotel at a cost of $2390. The overnight stay saves the band $1800, he said.

Haney acknowledged that the band would not be at the opening round of the state football playoffs but said it has happened before, and coaches understand and support the band’s decision.

Literacy grant – Trenton Elementary School received a $3000 literacy grant from Dollar General to be used for the statewide Read to Be Ready initiative.

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