Full-time classified staff within St. Clair R-XIII schools will receive the same health insurance benefit as other district employees after the board of education voted during its December meeting to offer the package.

Currently, health insurance is provided to certified staff, administrators and supervisors, Superintendent Mike Murphy said. But, in order to comply with the national Health Care Reform Act, which is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, board members opted to provide the benefit to all full-time district employees.

The motion made and approved on Dec. 20, however, does not yet attach a price tag or specifics as to what constitutes a full-time employee. The action simply approved bringing all classified staff who will be considered full time on board with the health insurance plan starting with the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“I make the recommendation to make a commitment to include these employees,” Murphy said. “I need the structural element in place to be able to say we’re adding these employees.”

Before the vote, a lengthy discussion took place centering on potential costs of the plan, which Murphy has estimated to be about $350,000 annually under current financial costs. The board has been discussing the issue for several months.

Murphy now will add the expansion of health insurance to the full-time classified staff when he begins working on the 2013-2014 budget.

Decisions still need to be made if a full-time employee means that individual works 30, 35, 40 or some other amount of hours a week. It is assumed that full-time R-XIII staff who work a 9 1/2-month schedule will be included.

Murphy said about 125 employees will be added to the health insurance plan under the classified staff addition.

During the discussion, board President Dave Berkel paralleled Murphy’s comments by saying a decision now needs to be made if the district wants to expand the benefit to the classified staff.

“We need to decide so we can start working with the numbers,” he said.

If the district does not comply with the reform act, it could be penalized in the neighborhood of $1,200 to $1,400 per employee per year.

Previous Discussions

In previous discussions during earlier monthly board meetings, finances proved to be the most difficult ingredient of the health insurance mix.

“The challenge has been to frame what we need to be considering from a budgetary aspect,” Murphy told board members in November. “When we design our budget for next year, we’re going to have to consider the health requirement.”

In October, Murphy said adding it for classified employees who work at least 30 hours per week would be at least $350,000 annually.

“This will be a recurring cost,” he said, adding that his latest figures put the expenditure at $356,988 based on what insurance costs are for the district during this academic year.

“Those costs are directly in front of us for the next budgetary cycle,” Murphy said.

In discussions with the board, Murphy repeatedly has mentioned President Barack Obama’s Health Care Reform Act, which will require most U.S. citizens and legal residents to have health insurance starting in 2014.

The superintendent said the board’s decision does not include the insurance for the Franklin County Cooperative. That would be handled in a different way, he said.

The board made no decisions in December as to how the district would finance the health insurance benefit. Because the cost would be annual, some previous discussions have centered on a tax levy hike.

If the board would opt to recover the expense through the budget at current levels, programs and/or staff reductions could have to be considered, Murphy said. In any regard, the superintendent said with the financial constraints the district is facing, some tough decisions will have to be made.