Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Affordable Care Act

Unclear what answers TE School Board needs regarding Affordable Care Act implemenation that they do not already have

When I added yesterday’s post on Community Matters, the TE School District had not yet posted their update from Monday’s Special School Board meeting. Because of all the back and forth between the Board and the District solicitor, it was unclear as to what Affordable Care Act answers were needed by the August 1 deadline that would allow the restoration of hours to the aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals. The following explanation of that motion is now on the TESD website but it remains confusing as to what further information the solicitor needs regarding ACA before August 1, that the Treasury Department press release from last week did not include.

From reading the 100-word second sentence in the update below, exactly what further information does the Board want provided from Washington? In an email to Caroline O’Halloran, which appears in today’s MLMN Suburban, school board President Kevin Buraks, stated “It is my hope that the Treasury Department will promptly provide the needed guidance so that we can restore our current aides and paraprofessionals to their full hours next school year.” I guess it doesn’t matter that I’m not clear what that ‘needed guidance’ is, as long as Buraks and the other school board members, the administration and the solicitor know what further information they need. Here’s hoping whatever Affordable Care Act guidance the Board seeks, arrives by the August 1 deadline!

School Board Reacts to Delay in Affordable Care Act Implementation

At a Special Meeting on July 8, 2013 to specifically address the Vanguard assessment appeal, the T/E School Board took action following the announcement of the delay of the Affordable Care Act as communicated by the Treasury Department last week. The Board action states that, upon confirmation from the District Solicitor that the Treasury Department has delayed the implementation of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act relevant to the Board’s June 17 resolution, the Board voted 8-1 to authorize the administration to suspend implementation of the Board’s June 17 resolution directing the administration to schedule all District part-time employees, such as aides and para-educators, for no more than 27.5 hours per week for the 2013-2014 school year to ensure that they meet the definition of part-time employees pursuant to the Affordable Care Act for the 2014-2015 school year. If no such confirmation is made by the District Solicitor by August 1, 2013, the administration will not suspend the implementation of the Board’s June 17 resolution. Whether or not implementation of the Board’s June 17 resolution is suspended, all new part-time hires, as defined under the Affordable Care Act, will be scheduled to work no greater than 27.5 hours per week.

TE School District response to the Affordable Care Act — Reduce employee hours

Now that the dust begins to settle on yesterday’s announcement that the TE School District will not outsource jobs of aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers for the 2013/14 school year, residents and employees are again left with more questions than answers.

My initial reaction upon hearing the news that 260 District jobs were saved from outsourcing was enthusiastic; but now in hindsight, I admit it was probably premature. I was thrilled for this group of employees, believing that the School Board had finally recognized their value and commitment to the District’s children, in making the choice not to outsource.

However, after spending a few minutes reviewing Burak’s email to the employees in addition to phone calls and emails, the celebratory mood quickly changed. The statement reads that the “District will restructure the work hours” of the employee to comply with the Affordable Care Act and “does not result in new costs or penalties to the District”.

What we learn from Burak’s words is that the School Board’s way around the ACA compliance issue it to reduce employee hours. The ACA does not require the District to provide health insurance to those employees working less than 30 hours a week – so the District’s answer to the Federal law is simple… cut hours. TESD is the only school district in the area that does not provide health insurance for their employees – Great Valley, Radnor and Lower Merion school districts all offer healthcare coverage to all their employees.

Does the School Board want the community to feel good about what they are doing? Is this an acceptable solution? Where is the plan for the future … the vision … leadership?

Keeping healthcare coverage out of the hands of the least paid and oh, by the way, we are reducing your hours to comply with Federal law. This same Board gave the District administrators salary increases and bonuses and in less than 4 months is now cutting the hours of aides and paras. But don’t forget the Board also gave this group of employees a 1% raise. If you are an employee making $10/hr., with your 1% raise you will now make $10.10/hr. However, don’t get too excited District employee because we now must reduce your hours below 30 to avoid offering you health insurance.

Let’s review; the Board gives bonuses, raises and a Cadillac health plan to the highest paid District employees but provides no insurance coverage and cuts the hours of the least paid District employees. Seems hardly fair or equitable.

I had a phone call last night from a District aide who works 37 hours a week and cannot afford for her hours to drop below 30 hours. Her family’s health insurance is covered through her husband’s employer and they do not need coverage from the District. Her question to me — would she still be able to work the 37 hours a week in the District because she does not need the health insurance from the District. Of course, I could offer no definitive response. What would she have to do, sign an agreement with the District saying she wouldn’t take the health insurance if they offered it to her? This aide also wanted to know ‘when’ this matter would be resolved, what was the timeline for knowing if she would have 29 hours or 37 hours? Again, I don’t know and School Board President Buraks offered no details, except to enjoy the summer and he’d see them in the Fall.

I recall previous suggestions about reducing the hours below 30 hours so that the District would not have to offer health care coverage and comply with the Affordable Care Act. Dan Waters response was immediately negative to that suggestion, stating that the kids would suffer with the reduction in hours. Yet magically a month later, are we now to believe that the kids will no longer be in danger with a reduction in the hours of the aides and paras?

Beyond the personal effect on the employee in reduction of hours, how exactly does the District expect to make up the discrepancy and provide adequate coverage for the students? Is the plan to hire additional part-time employees to make up the missing hours? If so, at what cost?

Addressing the District aides, paras and substitute teachers in his email, Buraks states, “… we greatly value and appreciate the contributions that you make to our students and staff every day.” – To that, I’d say that you certainly have an odd way of showing it!

Bottom line … there are many unanswered questions and the employees and the residents deserve answers. Finance Committee meeting is Monday, June 10, 7 PM at Conestoga High School. I hope that the Board and the administration is prepared to respond to the questions.

Outsourcing analysis by TE School District does not stand up to public scrutiny – decision ‘on hold’

Taxpayers, teachers, PTO presidents, paraprofessionals, parents, substitute teachers, TENIG members and students brought their collective voices to the School Board meeting last night, and were heard, at least temporarily.

Standing three people deep and overflowing into the lobby, all attended the meeting for the singular purpose to oppose outsourcing of paraprofessionals in the TE School District. For over three hours, one voice after another was echoing the same message to the School Board, “don’t outsource.” For the record, not one person spoke in favor of the District’s proposed outsourcing plan.

With Fox News and ABC Action News filming most of the proceedings,Board members, District business manager Art McDonnell, personnel manager Sue Tiede and Superintendent Dan Waters repeatedly claimed that many of us had misunderstood and that the third-party outsourcing to STS would actually help ‘save’ the jobs of District aides and paras. They wanted us to believe that STS would hire all the displaced TE employees and that our employees would be making more money working for STS.

According to McDonnell, the need for outsourcing is based on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the cost to provide healthcare for the aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers working 30 hours or more per week in TESD. These employees have never received healthcare coverage through the District. McDonnell claimed the annual cost to provide healthcare coverage to these currently uninsured District employees would be in excess of $2.3M and further citing a potential fine of $1.2M annually for noncompliance.

By the time the last person had spoken out about outsourcing, it was abundantly clear that the District and the School Board had many more questions than answers. McDonnell had predicated his evaluation of the healthcare coverage costs to the District on all 175 employees needing insurance. As was repeatedly pointed out, most of these employees have insurance through their spouses and do not need the coverage. The District’s cost to insure was based on all 175 employees working 30+ hours per week which had many in the audience asking why not reduce their hours (so the District would not be affected by the requirements of ACA).

Several residents spoke of personal experience with the Affordable Care Act and its requirements. One in particular, a CFO for a local corporation, offered that the District’s analysis was incomplete and inaccurate, and suggested the Board seek healthcare benefit expertise so as to make an informed decision. Example of inadequate District analysis — The Affordable Care Act does not stipulate that the healthcare coverage must be the same as offered to the teachers and administrators. Rather than plugging in the cost for a ‘basic’ healthcare coverage in their outsourcing analysis, the McDonnell used the cost of the Cadillac-type of healthcare coverage of the administrators.

The most striking comments of the evening were from those who had called the proposed outsourcing company, STS to learn about the company and their employment requirements. They were told that STS employees only need graduate from high school, or a GED will suffice. (Remember all the aides, paras and substitute teachers working in TE have 4-year degrees and many have Master degrees). When asked if any additional training was needed to serve as a school district paraprofessional, the response from the company HR — was one evening of their STS Academy training (!). One young woman in the audience spoke last night who works for TESD but is also a STS employee. She explained STS hiring procedure and the shocking revelation that STS hired her with no interview required.

Personnel director Sue Tiede repeatedly countered the low employment standard of STS that should District use this company, they would be required to meet the TESD requirements. We also learned that STS has no experience with this type of job outsourcing. Although McDonnell and Tiede offered that a couple of Lancaster County school districts employ STS, we learned quickly from audience members that these contracts were only recently signed … therefore leading to the speculation that our award-winning school district would serve as the company’s outsourcing guinea pig.

Facing many unanswered questions from audience members and an outsourcing analysis that did not stand up to public scrutiny, at 11:20 PM, the School Board voted unanimously to table the discussion of outsourcing for the night. By the Finance Committee meeting on June 10, the administration and the Board will seek a better understanding of the Affordable Care Act (and its requirements) plus work to answer the many questions and possible solutions offered by the public last night.

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