Archive for Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Measure would help districts fund school employee benefits

February 20, 2002

With Kansas school budgets cut close to the bone, lawmakers are looking for ways to beef up school funding.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, has introduced a bill to let Kansas school boards set up an additional property tax levy out of which school districts would pay employee benefits such as health insurance. Currently, school districts finance employee benefits through the general fund.

Tonganoxie school district's monthly health insurance premiums: Family HMO $643 PPO $553 Employee and spouse HMO $450 PPO $393 Employee and children HMO $402 PPO $347 Employee only HMO $209 PPO $183

But it's unlikely that Vratil's bill will be welcomed by all Kansas school districts.

Richard Erickson, Tongan-oxie school superintendent, said the bill would penalize districts that have a small tax base.

For instance, Erickson said if an additional one-mill tax were levied in this district, it would collect about $50,000, or about one-third of the $150,000 the district currently pays toward employee health insurance premiums. A mill equals $1 of tax on every $1,000 of assessed property valuation.

"Every little bit helps," Erickson said. "But the fairest way to instrument that would be to make it a statewide one-mill levy for health insurance and the state would collect and distribute it back to the school districts on a per-pupil basis."

Sen. Bob Lyon, R-Winches-ter, said he favors giving additional flexibility to local districts to raise funds, but he added that he's not sure this bill is the way to go about doing it.

Lyon said the Kansas Associa-tion of School Boards opposes the bill because some districts would end up with more new tax revenue than others.

"At this point in time, I really don't think I'm in favor of ad additional statewide tax like that," Lyon said. "I think one of the things we can do to help is to give greater flexibility to local districts who have different needs."

In Tonganoxie, the school district pays $145,000 toward employee health insurance premiums. This breaks down to $100 per month for each certified employee, and up to $50 for classified employees.

"It's actually only a small portion of the employees' health insurance cost," Erickson said.

The benefit amount is determined during contract negotiations.

"In the five years I've been here, the employees have opted to take the salary increase rather than the defined benefits increase," Erickson said.

The district has 200 employees, of whom only 96 are enrolled in the district's health insurance program.

"The issue we all face, as employees in USD 464, is that the health insurance premiums increase each year," Erickson said.

Each year, the district shops around for health insurance plans, Erickson said. One of the plans the district considers is a state insurance pool, a plan that in recent years the district has found to be too costly to use.

"Each year we receive an estimate on what the next year's insurance premium will be," Erickson said. "The last two or three years it's been such a large increase that the insurance committee has decided to take bids and look elsewhere."

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