Board continues effort to offset projected budget deficit by adjusting health-care coverage, paring other expenditures
Continuing its effort to offset a projected $1 million deficit in the 2015-16 budget, the Grafton School Board on Monday endorsed a series of cost-cutting steps that include revamping health insurance options, paring co-curricular expenditures and other changes.
In a report to the board, Supt. Mel Lightner said the state’s Joint Finance Committee’s recent decision to reinstate a $150 cut in per-pupil categorical aid for the coming school year would restore about $300,000 in revenue to the district.
That would trim the projected deficit to $700,000 but still require the board to make other major cuts to balance the budget, he noted.
“It’s extremely challenging this year,” Lightner said. “Even with the $150 per-pupil aid restored, it’s still a revenue freeze.”
The board previously supported several cuts recommended by Lightner and Director of Business Services Kristin Sobocinski, including $233,704 by eliminating two full-time administrative positions; $162,349 from the learning services budget; $100,000 in health insurance adjustments; and more than $150,000 in co-curricular and supervisory pay, part-time administrative assistants and other employees.
On Monday, the board agreed to fine-tune the health insurance coverage by increasing some employee costs and reducing the district’s expenses as part of a defined-contribution approach.
The changes — recommended by the Horton Group, an insurance consultant — include cutting the district’s cash-in-lieu-of insurance payment from $5,000 to $4,000; setting the district’s premium contributions for employees who do meet wellness incentives at $7,250 for single coverage and $16,400 for family coverage; reducing the district’s wellness-incentive payments for health savings accounts to $1,250 for single coverage and $2,500 for family coverage; and setting the district’s maximum premium shares at $8,500 for single coverage and $18,900 for family coverage.
Sobocinski said health insurance premium rates for 2016 will not be known until October, making it difficult to forecast costs for employees and the district. However, she estimated the recommended changes would reduce the district’s insurance costs by $140,000.
The estimate is based on the Horton Group’s projection of a 6% premium increase, which raised some questions.
Representing the Grafton Education Association, teacher James Johnson said employees will face financial hardship if the premium hike exceeds 6% because it would “nullify any increases we receive in base wages.”
However, Lightner and Sobocinski said the 6% increase is a reasonable estimate.
“If we have to make an adjustment in the fall, then we will do it,” Lightner said.
Other recommended budget cuts include eliminating pay for student mentor and lunch duty, “B” sports teams at John Long Middle School, a substitute software stipend and the high school video club. Those changes will total more than $36,000 in reductions, Sobocinski said.
Lightner said the district is also poised to trim technology costs by moving from a 1-to-1 student-to-computer ratio at John Long Middle School to “a more sustainable” 3:2 ratio, receiving help from parent organizations that purchase Chromebooks for elementary schools and eliminating the printing of color copies.
Lightner said he and Sobocinski will use the recommendations to prepare a preliminary balanced budget for the board to consider June 22.