Deal’s proposal contains negatives

Published 6:12 pm Friday, January 23, 2015

Last week, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal released his fiscal year 2016 budget proposal, which contained potential positives and negatives for local boards of education. 

Decatur County School System superintendent Dr. Fred Rayfield said that the level of funding proposed could allow the system to look into refilling some vacant positions; however, one negative aspect of the governor’s proposal has school system heads concerned.

On page 137 of the proposal, Gov. Deal outlines his recommended changes to the State Health Benefit Plan, which all public school employees currently receive.

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“11. Delay the implementation of the scheduled increase of the employer contribution rate for noncertificated school service employees from $596.20 per member per month to $746.20 per member per month, deferring the collection of an estimated $102,825,000 in revenue for the SHBP.

12. Effective January 1, 2016, eliminate SHBP coverage for non-certificated public school employees, as defined in OCGA §20-2-910, who work, on average, fewer than 30 hours per week.”

“What’s concerning about that recommendation for me is, first thing is, you would have people without health insurance coverage,” Rayfield said. “Second of all, as their employer — which the state is not their employer; we are — we would obviously, in good faith, go out and try to find an alternative plan for those employees that were affected.”

The Decatur County School System, as of Jan. 20, has 773 employees, 396 that are certificated and 377 that are not. Those 377 that are non-certificated hold positions such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitorial, maintenance and secretarial positions.

Rayfield said that, without pulling a detailed report, it would be difficult to estimate how many of those employees work fewer than 30 hours per week.

“The only employee group that I’m pretty darn certain that it would hit in its entirety would be the bus drivers,” Rayfield said. “They do not work more than 30 hours per week.”

Rayfield said that finding a comparable plan would be difficult. The system shopped around after the state announced it would raise the insurance premiums for non-certificated employees and could not find a financially feasible solution.

Rayfield also said that was “concerned” about the divide it could create among employee groups.

“It would be creating a difference between how we treat employee groups,” Rayfield said. “Non-certificated folks who didn’t meet the hourly threshold would be getting a different health insurance product than our certificated people and our folks that exceeded 30 hours.”

Yet another concern would be filling those non-certificated positions that would no longer receive health benefits.

“Most of our drivers drive for the health insurance benefit and not the wages,” Rayfield said. “It would put a huge hole in the number of people that would continue to drive a bus or would be applying to drive a bus.”

Rayfield said that while the proposal is not perfect, it is just a proposal that has to make it through the Georgia House of Representative and the Georgia State Senate.

“[Deal] delaying that one more budget cycle is financially beneficial to us,” Rayfield said. “I think it’s just the remedy that we’re all worried about. What’s the long-term solution to delaying this cost increase for two or three years? That’s where the painful part of it is, because there has to be a long-term solution.”

The $21.7 billion budget contains minimal cuts for education as a whole and includes the potential funds to prevent furlough days.

“I’m pleased with the fact he submitted a proposal that included some restoration of days that we had lost,” Rayfield said. “He’s funding us at the same level that they did during the election year, which we did not expect that to continue at that level. We thought we might be cut back again.”