Highland County School Board Still Struggling With Retiree Health Insurance Issues

Monterey, VA – The Highland County School Board closed out its fiscal year at last week’s meeting with some unanswered questions. The first is how to deal with the issue of retiree access to the school system health insurance plan. Currently, retirees can pay the premiums and participate in the school system health insurance if they choose.

School Board Chairman Kirk Billingsley is concerned that the participation of retired teachers in the insurance program will drive up costs for current employees and has proposed that this benefit for retirees be ended. The matter has been discussed at recent school board meetings without being resolved. Board member Jim Blagg offers his opinion.

“When we considered this I was a leading proponent of doing it” says Blagg, “I made an assumption which was a failing on my part. I assumed we had a lot more retirees in this pool than we actually do. I figured we had 10 or 15 retirees in this pool, but the numbers are extremely small, there are four currently, and four projected for next year too.”

“And I can’t speak to what their health’s going to be but I guess I assumed a much larger savings than the numbers would show. Based on the information I have, I’m not a strong supporter of the policy at this point. I’m not as convinced that it has the value that I thought it would.”

Board Chairman Kirk Billingsley responds.

“To me, this was looking down the road thinking that there’s a possibility that we may have reductions in staff” says Billingsley. “We’re going to have a smaller staff possibly supporting a larger pool of retirees which would increase the costs even more.”

Mr. Blagg and Mr. Billingsley offer additional comments.

“I thought about that too, and of course the policy could be changed in any given year” says Blagg, “so if the numbers went way up, the school board could vote to change it in a given year. It’s not locked in for period of time.”

“But you hate to change it when you’ve got five people coming up to June 30th, getting ready to retire” says Billingsley.

“I think whoever was on the school board at that time would owe the employees more advance notice, six to nine months, something like that, if they could address it that far” says Blagg.

The issue was continued to the July meeting. Board Chariman Kirk Billingsley goes on to talk about a recent meeting he had in Richmond regarding the future of the school system’s funding from the state.

“Anne Adams and I did go down and talk with Kent Dickey with the [Virginia] Dept of Education, we talked about different ideas” he says. “Dr. C[Highland Superintendent Dr. William Crawford] had come up with the idea that let’s just set up for somewhere around 2 million dollars. Kent Dickey agreed because the approach in the past has been to try to adjust the composite index. And you stir up a hornet’s nest every time you try to do that because you’ve got every school division in the state seeing how that’s going to affect them. Best thing to do is try to do this through a budget amendment.”

In other business, the board approved payment of $9,874 to Contractor Jerry Rexrode for removal of carpet from 4 elementary school rooms and the addition of a tile floor. The money will be taken from the fiscal year 2011 budget, not the new budget. With the start of the fiscal year this month, the new School Superintendent Dr. William Crawford and new High School Principal April Goff will take up their duties.

The next meeting of the Highland County School Board will be Monday, July 11 at 7 PM in the High School library.

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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