The Jindal administration’s latest plan to stabilize the state health insurance system could trigger more crowded public school classrooms and crippling cuts in dollars for school technology and other areas, officials said Monday.
“It obviously will affect the classroom at some point or another, and that is what we always try to prevent,” said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.
“Obviously, anytime school boards have to incur additional expenses, it is a concern,” Richard said. “It takes dollars away from the classroom.”
Richard made his comments three days after Gov. Bobby Jindal’s lieutenants unveiled a new plan to aid the state health insurance program.
It would require local school boards to come up with $38.3 million in new dollars for their share of employee insurance costs, including $5.7 million in the Jefferson Parish school district, according to state estimates.
State and local governments pay 75 percent of the health insurance premiums for state employees, teachers, administrators and others.
Richard and others have long complained that school districts statewide are reeling from annual increases in health insurance and retirement costs, especially when state aid for public schools was essentially frozen from 2009 to 2013.
He said the $38 million charge is on top of local worries about looming costs for school districts to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act — known generally as “Obamacare” — that takes full effect in 2015.
The latest proposal trims out-of-pocket expenses in exchange for higher premiums for members, state government and local school boards, which could rise by nearly 11 percent starting on July 1.
The changes would provide financial aid for the Office of Group Benefits, which includes about 230,000 members who are state employees, teachers, retirees and their dependents. The operation used to have a $500 million reserve, which has shrunk to less than half that.
Richard said 44 of Louisiana’s 69 school districts rely on the state health insurance program.
That list includes the Livingston, West Baton Rouge, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Tangipahoa school systems.
The Jefferson Parish school system faces an increase of $5.7 million in 2016; a $2.6 million hike in the Livingston Parish school district; and about $500,000 in the West Baton Rouge Parish school system, according to state estimates released on Monday.
Some charter schools also would be affected, including the Louisiana Key Academy in Baton Rouge.
A task force has been meeting for months on possible changes in the Minimum Foundation Program, called MFP, which is the source of most state aid for public schools.
That panels next meets on Nov. 18.
However, any push to include more dollars for health insurance through the MFP could be crippled by the fact that it affects less than two-thirds of districts statewide.
State Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Livingston and a member of the House committee that heard the new plan on Friday, said he thinks adding dollars to next year’s MFP is the most viable option because a separate appropriation is unlikely.
Pope, former superintendent of the Livingston Parish school system, said he hopes the task force takes up the issue.
“Without help, they would have to cut back on academic programs, possibly personnel. They would just have to make some reductions,” he said.
But Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, a member of the task force, disagreed that the task force needs to get involved in the issue.
Appel said the panel is studying the structure of the MFP, not specific costs.
“I would not want the task force to get into that kind of minutiae,” he said. “I don’t think that is where we belong.”
Appel said that issue rests with the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
In a prepared statement issued late Monday night, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said the latest plan includes input from legislators and others who said a premium hike is preferable to other options. “The planned increase next year will mark the first time rates have risen above where they were in 2012,” Nichols said.
Richard said he is hopeful that the state will assist local school districts.
“We are cautiously optimistic that if there is a meeting of stakeholders, that we can reach some solutions that will work for everybody,” he said.
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