School Board Delays Health Cuts For Part-timers

Maxwell Says Move Would Save $250,000 Annually

August 23, 2009|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education has delayed action on a plan by Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell that would prevent part-time school system employees from receiving the same health care benefits as their full-time counterparts, an uncommon practice among other school systems across the state.

Maxwell pushed the plan as not only a cost-saving measure at a time of economic distress that has resulted in the furloughing of employees this school year, but as a longtime school system policy that he hoped to remedy in time for the start of a new benefits cycle in January.

But school board members voted 7-2 against fast-tracking the measure to ensure its implementation this school year, unwilling to abandon board procedure that allows for more public meetings on the matter. They also expressed concern about decreasing employee benefits during an economic downturn.

Currently, part-time employees who work at least 16 hours a week are eligible for the same health insurance benefits as full-time employees. Maxwell's plan would make part-time school employees pay a portion of their health care costs to coincide with the amount of time they work. Schools Human Resources Director Florie Bozzella said the planned change would affect about 530 part-time teachers, school secretaries and custodians and could save the school system about $250,000 annually.

"I don't like the fact of waiving our process," said Ned P. Carey, the board president. "Never have. Never did. I will not vote for this."

Board member Eugene Peterson said he objected to changing the benefit structure this year on moral grounds.

"I have a tough time with this at this economic time," Peterson said.

A survey of 19 of the state's school systems found that Anne Arundel's health care benefits for part-timers were one of the most generous, according to Bozzella. Most of the counties that responded to the survey base their health care benefits for part-time employees on the amount of time worked.

School officials said they will push the plan next year.

Union leaders decried the plan as more pain for a work force that is being furloughed and is not getting a pay raise this year because of budget cuts.

"Our position is based on the fact that, historically, AACPS has not been competitive salary-wise," said Timothy M. Mennuti, president of the teachers union. "Even though it has improved somewhat, we still rely heavily on our benefits package to attract teachers. In the case of our part-time employees, which seem to be increasing in number, increasing the cost of benefits could well be a deal-breaker."

Jim Sollers, president of the union representing food service workers, said, "You have a lot of food services employees that are going to be affected by this. These people got furloughed this year. We didn't get our steps. We didn't get our cost-of-living. This is going to be another burden on these people."

Maxwell and the two dissenting board members expressed regret that the overhaul will have to wait for at least another year.

"I'm a little bit disappointed that we're not moving forward," said Teresa Milio Birge, one of two board members - along with Victor E. Bernson Jr. - who voted to expedite the process. "Why are we spending this money in this economy when we don't have to? If you're only working half-time, we as a school system can't afford to subsidize those benefits."

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