2011-06-26 / Front Page

Budget squeeze in North Branch

School district finds savings in new insurance carrier
BY JACOB HUNSANGER 810-452-2609  jhunsanger@mihomepaper.com


The North Branch Area Schools Board of Education will meet Monday at 7 p.m. to discuss the budget issues and take action on approving a budget for the 2011-2012 school year. 
Photo by JACOB HUNSANGER The North Branch Area Schools Board of Education will meet Monday at 7 p.m. to discuss the budget issues and take action on approving a budget for the 2011-2012 school year. Photo by JACOB HUNSANGER NORTH BRANCH — North Branch Area Schools Superintendent Tom English has found a large chunk of change to be saved in an unlikely spot. But the coming change is not likely to be heralded with rave reviews.

As of May 1, the entire North Branch schools administration and support staff switched health care providers to MIEHIP, a health insurance pool founded by North Branch and nine other Michigan school districts. The teachers, currently covered by MESSA (Michigan Education Special Services Association), will be switched over to the MIEHIP insurance pool as of September 1.

MESSA’s primary mission is to serve the members of the Michigan Education Association (MEA), the state’s largest teachers’ union, by providing health and related employee benefit plans.

Unlike other districts, said English, the North Branch teachers’ contract dictates that the teachers must be covered under the MESSA plan “or equivalent.” Those two words allow the district to switch health insurance providers for the teachers as long as the same amount and quality of coverage is provided.

“We’re not changing coverage,” said English, “but we want the best price.”

The school district currently pays over $2 million per year in health insurance costs. The switch to MIEHIP will save the district $200,000 in the first year alone, nearly 10 percent of the health insurance budget. That savings will be greatly appreciated as the school district currently faces a $1.5 million budget shortfall. The superintendent and the school board are working diligently to find savings where ever they can be found and aggressively pursuing negotiations with teachers and support staff for concessions.

English is concerned that the switch may spark outrage in an already tense atmosphere. Large crowds of parents, teachers and staff have attended the past few school board meetings to express concern and anger at the possibility of privatizing the school district’s transportation and custodial staff. However, the switch in teachers’ health insurance provider will only be a change in name’s sake. The new insurance plan through MIEHIP has been worked through thoroughly to ensure the exact same coverage as MESSA provided.

The details of the new plan will be available to MEA and the North Branch teachers to examine and compare with their current coverage. English said he is confident the two plans provide the same coverage, but if anything was overlooked it will be changed immediately, down to the smallest detail.

The district will save $200,000 this school year by switching the teachers’ coverage over to MIEHIP because the pool removes the middleman and collectively shares the costs.

Concerns have already been raised about MIEHIP regarding the privacy of the teachers’ medical information. Fears were even raised in the past week that English or others in the administration would be able to view employees’ personal medical records. That, however, is not true and would be illegal. “Those myths don’t need to be out there,” said English.

English and the school board are hoping that the health insurance savings will help make it possible to avoid privatizing either the transportation or the custodial staff. “I don’t want to have to outsource anybody,” English said.

The North Branch Area Schools Board of Education will meet Monday (June 27) at 7 p.m. to discuss the budget issues and take action on approving a budget for the 2011-2012 school year. The meeting will be held in the North Branch High School auditorium to accommodate what will likely be a large audience.

Return to top

Copyright © 2009-2017 The County Press, All Rights Reserved

Click here for the E-Edition
2011-06-26 digital edition

Unrestricted access available to web site subscribers

Subscribers to the County Press newspaper can now purchase the complete online and E-Edition of the paper for as little as $5 for three months. If you want a six month subscription to the online edition it is $10 and a full year can be purchased for $20.

Non-subscribers can sign up for the online version for $15 for three months, $30 for six months and $60 for an annual subscription.