Affordable Care Act compliance ideas for T/E School Board

AffordableCareAct-MainPhoto1I am passionate about our community’s history and the preservation of our historic buildings and the demolition of the house on Pugh Road has had my attention the last few days. The discussion on the township’s historic resources will continue but I want to get back to other issues, including the TESD budget and the District’s compliance of Affordable Care Act.

The school district held a special meeting on January 6 to present the preliminary budget proposal and for a ACA presentation by Rhonda Grubbs, Wisler Pearlstine attorney and Art McDonnell, District’s business manager. (See Community Matters related post).  Following the ACA presentation, many questions remained.  School board president Kevin Buraks told the audience that the ACA discussion would next be discussed at the Finance Committee meeting on Monday, January 13.

I attended the January 13th Finance Committee expecting further discussion of the ACA.  However, the decision was to postpone any additional ACA discussion to the next full school board meeting — upcoming on Monday, January 27. Although it was the decision of the school board members attending the Finance Committee meeting to postpone the ACA discussion, Pete Motel actively reached out to the community and asked that we provide our own ideas for compliance to the school board.  Remember, all TESD employees are not currently offered health care benefits – facing the ACA compliance deadline, the  Board needs to decide what to do about the aides, paras and substitute teachers, the employees not currently receiving health benefits.

The Finance Committee meeting is not videotaped so probably few in the community are aware that Motel encouraged ideas and suggestions about ACA compliance from the public. If you want to help keep the jobs of the aides and paras from outsourcing, they need to have health coverage.  This is important and the Board needs to hear from the public.  Send your suggestions, (be specific) to schoolboard@tesd.net and share those ideas for discussion on Community Matters.

Compliance with the ACA is not an easy task for the Board. There are many factors to consider and I think the Board left the ACA presentation with as many questions as members of the public.  The ACA presentation gave a negative, ‘cannot be done’ slant to the compliance situation.  However, there are people in the community that believe that there are other options for the Board to consider.

In an email, resident Ray Clarke suggests that it is important for the Board, “to base the analysis on reasonable estimates of any underlying variables (family vs single status, % opting out in favor of cash, etc. while of course, recognizing that the actual outcomes could be different (back up with budget contingencies, fund balance commitments).  The values for these assumptions should be published along with the impacts.”

Taking school board member Pete Motel’s suggestion to heart, Ray sent a list of ACA ideas to the Board and they are included below:

–  Provide the “current” healthcare plan to full time aides, paras, subs, and so make the non-discrimination test moot.  Make reasonable estimates for and publish all the assumptions: premium share, family status, coverage provided, wage adjustment, coverage waiver bonus, etc.

–  Provide a minimum “basic-care” employee-coverage-only plan to full time aides, paras, subs and Admin.  Deal with the Admin group as Keith has suggested on CM.  Make assumptions as above.

–  Facilitate the formation of a union/bargaining group for either the Admin group or the aides, paras, subs so that their benefits can be bargained separately and avoid the non-discrimination test.

–  Cap hours/days of all aides/paras/subs at 27.5 hours/3.5 days.  Flesh out the impact on students and management overhead and provide realistic estimate of any partially compensating salary increase.

–  Outsource as needed.  Provide guesstimate of impact based on rates paid for current out-sourced employees and from last year’s discussions with vendors.

I think that the Board should also have a table comparing compensation rates and all benefits (including PSERS) for aides, paras, subs in neighboring school districts.

Perhaps the Board can also be encouraged to get direct feedback from the affected employees.  There are web-based tools that could be used, for example, for a simple anonymous ranking of employee priorities (while of course recognizing that the priorities are not in practice independent and none can be guaranteed).

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19 Comments

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  1. This is a real challenge for the district. Here’s an interesting report from the New York Times (first reported to me by Neal, who saw the reference on Fox News)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/us/rules-for-equal-coverage-by-employers-remain-elusive-under-health-law.html?_r=1

    The piece refers to the requirements for companies that purchase commercial coverage (not self-insured like TESD), but there’s an important reference:

    “One reason for the delay in enforcement is that officials have decided to review the existing nondiscrimination rules for self-insured companies, even as they try to write new rules for employers that buy commercial health insurance.”

    and

    “Katie W. Mahoney, the executive director of health policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the existing nondiscrimination rules were so convoluted that employers often complied just with the spirit of the law, “rather than with the precise requirements of the regulations.””

    To me, this argues for a best faith (creative) effort to comply with the rules as known today, not lock into a long term solution and do the best to meet employee needs, and then adapt as things clarify.

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  2. Please! The district has money to offer health insurance to the aides.
    Rainy day fund? Really? Lets take money from the community. Hold it. And lets earn interest. So the community cannot earn interest on that money. It is called stealing. Wake up people.
    They steal!!! Dan has his car we paid for. His kids go to school on our money…we paid for!!! He is like a corporate head but the shore home and was not from profit it was our hard work. Thief!!!
    Just like a corporate head….going after the little guy!!
    And he sits at the meetings looking board like the puppet master that he is…he pulled the strings before the meetings and sits there looking innocent so every body else can do his dirty work.
    What Dan does not think about or the board members is…who are the aides spouses. Family members. See they are not doing their home work. While they wheel the power..there may be more powerful people,

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  3. Thank you, Patty, for keeping us informed on this matter. I don’t have anything specific to recommend, unfortunately, but Ray Clarke’s proposals seem to have much merit. As a tax payer, financial concerns are very important. But I don’t want the legitimate (in my view) concerns of the employees and the people benefitting from their services to become a strictly “bottom-line” issue.

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  4. One thing to keep in mind is that the tesd has passed the non discriminatory rules every year for the last several years while providing the aides with no healthcare. They tested the murky waters and passed. The non discriminatory rules for self insured plans have not changed. So even without knowing any other variables etc. our experts say that if you passed by offering this group nothing then offereing them something of less value (skinny plan etc) then the hce’s the plan still must pass. If this was all a brand new plan where we just started giving the administrators healthcare then i might agree to be conservative and not risk incurring penalties for non discriminatory regs. But the dice was already rolled for the last several years and so it is proven that separating the aides into a subcategory of employees is acceptable to the IRS for tesd

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    I’m getting the strong feeling that the Board doesn’t want the ACA discussion. If you recall at the last School Board meeting, president Buraks told the audience that the ACA discussion would continue at the Finance Committee meeting. So I go to the Finance Committee meeting, and we’re told by Board member Karen C. that the Board had decided to continue the ACA at the next regular Board meeting, allowing more people to see the discussion. Well, tonight’s the regular School Board meeting and there’s no mention made of Affordable Care Act on the agenda for tonight. In fact, when you read discussions for Priority Discussion/Action, the agenda says’none’. Here’s the link to the agenda: http://www.tesd.net/cms/lib/PA01001259/Centricity/Domain/56/January%2027%202014%20eAgenda%20Web%20Public%20Version.pdf

    What’s up with this — avoidance of public discussion does not make ACA Federal compliance issues go away. Why can’t we have an expert (outside the District) insurance provider make a presentation for the Board, staff and the residents. There are many unanswered questions and avoiding the topic is not a solution. Why continually tell the public that it will be discussed at the next meeting and then when the next meeting comes, tell it will be at the next one.

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    Middle school aide Reply:

    They are not going to discuss because they made their decision. They are tired of going through the show. They are going to cut hours. If the aides decide to leave because of the cut in hours they will be replace by this outsourcing company. In the long run the district saves money on the back of the low paid employees.
    They decided to stop the show. They decided a while back that the public input did not work for them. Thus is why they quietly/slowly brought in this company/employees.
    1-they never ever like to be told they are wrong. At the meetings people tell them they are wrong so they shut that down.
    2-They still going with the theory of saving money in the district by squeezing the employees. At some point it will go dry. Teachers negotiations are going no where. Strike is looming.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Sadly, you are probably right — so much for community input. It should be no surprise as to ‘why’ residents don’t come to the school board meetings. You get to a point, that you just say why bother?

    After the last teachers contract was signed a couple of years ago, the District announced millions in unexpected surplus the following month. And then the next year more millions in surplus were found — the total in unexpected surplus for the last 2 years is close to $9 million yet the District cannot offer insurances to the aides & paras.

    We never get a status update at school board meetings about the teacher negotiations and I’d love to know how they are going (or not going). After the millions were found in surplus a couple of years ago, I know how upsetting it was to the teachers — and at that time, I had the distinct impression that TEEA negotiations were not going to go too well the next time around.

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Instead of speculating on why the ACA discussion was postponed (and assuming the worst), why doesn’t someone pick up the phone and call a board member?

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Actually Keith, I did just that yesterday. I called a T/E School Board member to specifically ask why the ACA discussion was not on the agenda, given the fact that we were told at the previous School Board meeting it to would be discussed at Finance meeting, then Finance meeting we are told it will be at the next Board meeting (which was last night). The School Board did not have an answer as to why ACA was not on the agenda. So we don’t have much to go on here, except speculation. The Board tells the public only what ‘they’ want us to know. There are some Board members that think that the lack of attendance at Board meetings equates that everything is great in T/E and that they are doing such a great job, there’s no reason to show up. For the residents that do bother to show up, your questions are often met with disdain. Whether it’s the discussion of the ACA, outsourcing of the aides and paras or the status of the teachers contract — the Board’s view is that the public will be informed on a “need to know’ basis. The situation has gotten really old.

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Pattye,
    .
    Did the board member you spoke with tell you why the ACA discussion was postponed? And, if so, did he or she give you permission to publicize the information?
    .
    It only takes one courageous board member to change board culture and break the “veil of silence”. Give new board members a chance to become accustomed to their job before expecting any drastic change in board behavior.

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    The Board member didn’t tell me why the ACA discussion was postponed and said they didn’t know because they had not been told. There are 3 new TESD Board members – from Tredyffrin – Scott Dorsey, from Easttown Doug Carlson and Virginia Lastner. With the addition of new people, there will no doubt be changes in the dynamics on the Board and I’m sure that they can make a difference.

    The T/E School District is highly ranked with impressive students, teachers, test scores, etc. etc. — so maybe there’s no need for open discussion between the Board and the taxpayers. What’s the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” — perhaps, we should all accept that the Board and the Administration has the resident’s best interest at heart. However the flip side, employees continue to contact me re the District’s continuing morale issues … or the aides/paras fearing their jobs will be outsourced … or residents who contact about their yearly tax increase, asking how this can happen since the District has the largest fund balance in the state plus there has been nearly $9 million in budget surplus the last 2 years. Clearly, I don’t have answers and I have suggested that they contact the District (some said they tried emailing but never received a response) True – not true, I have no idea. And then there are the folks who don’t want to contact the District because they fear retaliation to their children.

    No answers here.

    Interested Reply:

    It seems to me these new board members have been seated long enough to have addressed this issue.

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    “The Board member didn’t tell me why the ACA discussion was postponed and said they didn’t know because they had not been told.”
    .
    Eventually, that board member will realize that not being told is unacceptable. That board member has a one-ninth say in running the district. A phone call to the board president and/or the superintendent is in order. If the phone call doesn’t work then it’s time to pose the same question at a public meeting. It takes a while for new board members to understand how to wield their powers. A group of two or three like-minded board members is more powerful.

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    I should be clear — I didn’t say it was a new Board member that I asked. Are you suggesting that I could call President Buraks or Supt. Waters and ask them about this matter … if so, something tells me that neither would take my call.

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Oh, I didn’t make myself clear. You shouldn’t have to call the super or the board president. What I meant to say was that no board member should be content with being in the dark about board matters. A board member has a right to know why the ACA discussion was postponed. If they don’t know why, they raise holy hell until they find out.

  5. I am wondering how the new makeup of the board, those new members can allow this to continue. Wheres the hope and change?

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Wheres the hope and change? Still waiting.

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  6. Shining,
    .
    You asked about, a “TE [board members] being left out by not having access to confidential information needed to make a decision”. First, information shared with one board member should be accessible to all board members. No board member should be “left out”. Second, the information referred to in the thread above (why the ACA discussion was postponed) is not confidential. Third, at UCF, confidential information defined by information protected by law (e.g. student information, employee health information, employee performance evaluations) is given to the Board judiciously and only when necessary to make an informed decision.
    .
    You also asked about, “presence of Heroin in your [UCF] High School”. First, I don’t think we ever have found heroin in our high school. We conduct routine drug dog searches and I haven’t heard of any heroin seizures. But do we have community members that use heroin? Highly likely. Schools can and do provide students and parents education on drug related usage, prevention and risks. Every school in the state does a survey on student risky behavior. The results are not confidential and should be readily available for TE. Here are the latest results for UCF:
    http://www.ucfsd.org/…/UCFSD%20-%202011%20PAYS%20Presentation.ppt

    [Reply]

    Shining Light Reply:

    Thank-you Keith.

    I looked again and found:

    http://www.chestercounty.com/2014/01/21hard-lessons-and-good-adviceas-kacies-cause-comes-to-unionville-high-school

    In this article by John Chambless you will read about the gathering in the small auditorium in the Unionville High School on Jan. 16, 2014 where parents met to hear about drug use in Chester County. One woman in the audience asked Assistant D.A. Chuck Gaza if there was heroin at Unionville High School. Yes, Gaza answered quickly as a few people in the audience gasped. “I can say unequivocally that there is herion use at Unionville.”

    Dr. John Sanville, your supt. was in attendance and he, like you, referred to the PA Youth Survey.

    I’m both impressed and inspired by the frank and unfiltered talk by Assistant D.A. Gaza. This is a growing problem in Chester County and in and around the Northeastern suburbs. As parents we have to keep a vigilant eye and talks like this one help keep this important topic in the forefront of citizens’ minds.

    Thank-you for taking leadership by holding this gathering in your school.

    [Reply]

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