By Maureen Robertson
In a special meeting Monday, Ramona Unified School District trustees trimmed $139,575 from the district’s $49.6 million budget by reducing the hours of 29 non-teaching employees. Three of those workers will, effective March 1, 2012, no longer be eligible for health insurance benefits.
“This resolution verifies that there is a significantly reduced funding for the 2011-12 school year resulting in a need for reduction of staffing,” reads a report presented to the trustees before they voted 4-0 for the move. Board member Bob Stoody was absent.
In another action during the 10-minute meeting, the board approved a recommendation from Superintendent Robert Graeff to follow the administrators’ lead and have those accepting district health benefits pay a portion of those benefits if they choose the health plan with more expensive premiums.
Two of Ramona’s five school board members receive full benefits and one receives only vision, Assistant Superintendent David Ostermann said after the meeting.
Ostermann declined to say which board members accept benefits until he is sure he is not violating HIPAA privacy regulations, referring to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.
The district pays $16,000 per year for each of the two board members receiving full family benefits, said Ostermann.
All district employees who work at least 20 hours a week qualify for health and welfare benefits, with the district paying 100 percent of the premiums. Those who choose not to accept district benefits receive $1,500 for waiving the premiums.
Last month, the district’s Administrative Leadership Team (ALT) agreed to change the structure of its health insurance program. Because the cost of the Kaiser plan did not go up as anticipated, the district’s maximum annual dollar contribution toward health benefits for the 28 members of ALT will be the cost of the 2011 Kaiser medical plan.
Administrators, supervisors and school board members who enroll in health plans other than Kaiser pay the difference. Employees also receive dental, vision and life insurance benefits.
The same offer was made to the Ramona Teachers Association and to the California School Employees Association (CSEA). The teachers showed no interest, and negotiations with CSEA have not yet concluded, Graeff said in a report to the board.
The proposal, if approved by all employees, would save the district $400,000 a year, Graeff said.
While CSEA President Betsy Bargo said nothing before the board voted on Monday to cut hours for 29 employees, at the Sept. 15 board meeting she said, “there are ways of streamlining the positions without affecting the children.”
“They’re the critical support staff which up to now have supported teachers’ efforts to challenge our children to excel at those blasted state-mandated tests,” said Bargo. “...What is the justification for taking people away from the classroom or the library or the English learners who have lost their bilingual aides? How is the work they do going to get done?”
Among jobs affected by the reduction in hours are campus safety officers, library technicians, bilingual para-educators, computer lab assistants, an attendance/health technician, a secretary and a clerk. The reductions will take effect Nov. 28.
“Due to a lack of work and lack of funds, we prepared this resolution for you,” Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Development Anne Staffieri said, adding it was ratified by CSEA on Sept. 20.
“Like we said last year, we really don’t want to reduce anybody’s hours,” said Rodger Dohm, board president. “...But we’re doing what needs to be done so the district will stay financially solvent. That’s also our responsibility.”
Board member Dan Lopez said that, since he and two other board members were elected, “we’ve had no other real conversations about anything but layoffs and budget and what we’re going to do, and that’s awful. Obviously it’s not what you run for the school board for...I look forward to the day — I hope I get to be here — to reinstate people’s jobs, positions, salaries, programs.”