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For Some Nome Teachers, New Healthcare Costs Are a Burden — and Raise Questions of School Board Transparency

Gathering of Nome School Board members, teachers, and other attendees inside a room at the Nome Elementary School.
Nome School Board Meeting, Aug. 14, 2018. Photo: Margaret DeMaioribus, KNOM.

Staff members of Nome Public Schools (NPS) addressed the School Board on Tuesday night with concerns about increased healthcare premiums.

According to the teachers, those healthcare premiums increased 108% for NPS employees for the 2018-2019 school year. These were announced to teachers and classified staff in meetings last week, after contracts were signed. For many, that would mean hundreds of additional dollars taken from their monthly salary to go towards insurance. Junior high teacher Aaron Blankenship addressed the board last night.

“With even the most careful and conservative care in budgeting, most people would not be prepared for such a large change in costs.”

Some teachers shared that they have considered adding a second part-time job to relieve the new financial burden. They expressed the ways that could impact their dedication to the classroom, or prevent them from taking on extra-curricular activities that benefit students, such as coaching the cheerleading squad.

These costs also affect classified employees, like aides and support staff, who generally have lower salaries than teachers.

The school board did express sympathy. Here’s School Board President, Dr. Barb Amarok:

“Your lives are affected by decisions being made about this, so I would just like to say that we do take what you say seriously, and we will continue to work on this.”

While the new Superintendent, Bill Schildbach, did say that they would be going to the marketplace for new insurance in October, that would not be effective until next school year (2019-2020). The district is locked into the current plan for this year.

Diana Stewart of One Digital Health and Benefits was on hand to answer questions Tuesday night. According to Stewart, it would be possible to see lower rates, “but the claims would need to come in significantly lower than what they currently are.” And that wouldn’t be until later in the school year.

Employees who spoke were not only concerned about these impacts on their salaries, but also questioned how and why these increases happened in the first place. Teachers asked how long the board knew about these increased costs, and why teachers were only told about them a week before the school year started. Here is English teacher Teriscovkya Smith:

“I do not understand the processes that brought us here. I do not understand where the transparency gave way to planning and decision making that would so adversely impact my income.”

The board said it would need time to discuss and release a statement regarding those direct questions.

For now, Nome Public Schools employees can expect to pay the increased healthcare premiums.

Other business addressed by the board was approval of a Stop Loss Premium for Fiscal Year 2019, discussion of culture camp, a school survey, and introductions of incoming teachers. The meeting concluded with an Executive Session of the Board.

The next school board regular meeting will be held on September 11th.

Image at top: Nome School Board Meeting, Aug. 14, 2018. Photo: Margaret DeMaioribus, KNOM.

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