Thursday, November 5, 2015

No $400K Insurance Discount Next Year

Premium Holiday Postponed

In more bad budget news, at yesterday's school board meeting Business Administrator Caswell announced there would be no "premium holiday" next school year.  We were expecting a $400,000 discount on health insurance premiums, about 1% off our $41M budget.  Last year we enjoyed a premium holiday of $500K and this year $400K.

The whole premium holiday system is the result of a judge's ruling our insurance provider LGC/Health Trust overcharged customers, including Oyster River and its staff, in the 2000s (NPR).  I recall LGC has to return over $50 million, including maybe $2M to ORCSD.  The plan is to dole it out over a few years.  However, according to Administrator Caswell, Health Trust just announced that their reserves were low and they would not be offering premium holiday payouts next year.

The district has been treating the premium holidays as found money to spend. Last year's $500K was the major funding for Moharimet Cafeteria project. The plan was to use this year's and next year's as $800K toward the new field. However, two weeks ago the news from Health Trust was the maximum guaranteed increase on premiums was 16.8%, which meant we'd have to budget for an additional $800K (2%) in premiums. (The actual increase is not determined until May.)

The premium holiday system creates a kind of slush fund for the district. The district budgets for the full maximum guaranteed premium, conservatively assuming the premium holiday will not appear. Since the payout is in the form of a discount, the district can then spend the money saved on other things and still stay within the total amount appropriated by the voters, which they are legally required to do. If they had to pay the full premium and were handed back a big check for the payout, they couldn't spend it, at least not beyond the voter-approved appropriation.

The administration and school board have been trying to shoehorn the new field into the annual budget. They were counting on the premium holidays continuing and a more modest health insurance increase, so this $1M hole in the budget that appeared over the last two meetings puts the field plan in jeopardy. As I type this the five hour budget meeting is going on, where a new budget (including the administration's recommendation for the field project) will be revealed. [11/6 update: Nope, apparently the field plan is still up in the air.]

Assistant Superintendent Search Progressing

Superintendent Morse reports that the district received two dozen applications for the Assistant Superintendent position.  A screening committee including five administrators whittled it down to 6 candidates to be interviewed.  Interviews are expected to be completed on 11/16 and after a review of references a candidate will be recommended to the board at the 12/2 meeting, two weeks later than originally scheduled.

ORESPA Contract Approved

The board approved the collective bargaining agreement negotiated with the custodians and secretaries union, ORESPA (Oyster River Educational Support Personnel Association).  The negotiated increases in the three year contract are 1.5% for the first year, 2.25% for the second and 2.5% for the third.  It was reported that ORESPA approved the contract as well, so now it goes on the ballot for final approval by the voters in March.

Nation's Report Card Out, Smarter Balanced Results Expected Soon

2015 NEAP
click to enlarge
On November 12 the district expects the first results from Smarter Balanced, the Common Core assessments administered last spring.  Letters to parents will be sent home shortly after (electronically if they can work out the kinks).  The delay came from the state having to manually process the tests from a half dozen districts that chose the written version, rather than the online version we used.  

On a related note, the 2015 NEAP nationwide assessment reports, often called the nation's report card, are out.  Only 4th and 8th grade math and reading have been updated. NH did great, ranking 3rd for both subjects in 4th grade and 2nd for both in 8th grade out of all 50 states (plus DC and DoD schools).  So we're one of the best districts in one of the best states.   

In these four rankings, Massachusetts bested us 3 times, the DoD schools twice and Minnesota once.  I don't recall seeing the DoD schools in other studies -- if you exclude them we move up a notch twice, in particular to first in the country in 2015 8th grade reading.  The district has already spun some of these ranks as "tied for first." 

I pulled a couple of charts off the site, which I edited by adding the 2015 NH ranks among other things.  New Hampshire followed the national trend of a dropoff in math from 2013, and we had an especially sharp decline in 4th grade math.  In reading 4th grade stayed flat in line with the country, but 8th grade bucked the trend, increasing where the nation declined.  

It was a pretty short meeting, done by 8:20 or so including a 20 minute interval for non-public and non-meetings, so I'm going to wrap this up here.

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