Somerset School District employee handbook gets final approvalAfter six months of work, the Somerset Board of Education has completed its employee handbook.
By: Dave Newman, New Richmond News
After six months of work, the Somerset Board of Education has completed its employee handbook.
The handbook replaces the negotiated contracts that the school district had with the teaching staff and support staff.
Before approving the handbook the school board had three items to review that needed to be included in the handbook. The first of the subjects was the health insurance opt-out for employees where both spouses are employed by the school district. Currently, one member of the couple can take the health insurance and the second member of the couple can receive the opt-out, which is the same as what a single person on the staff would pay for health insurance for the year.
There are seven families in the district in this situation, with the opt-outs totaling approximately $40,000 for the seven families. School Board Chairman Tim Witzmann was the lone board member in favor of removing this benefit from the handbook.
“That’s $600,000-800,000 costs over the next 15-20 years,” Witzmann said. “I don’t think it’s something we can afford to maintain.”
Board members asked how long this benefit had been in place. Meg Farrington, one of the senior members of the teaching staff, said the practice has been in place at least 30 years.
Several members of the board said the staff members were hired knowing this benefit was in place and that it would be unfair to take it away.
“It is what it is,” said board member Bob Gunther. “We knew it when we hired the top candidates.”
The board came to agreement that the seven couples currently on the staff would be grandfathered in to keep this benefit, but any new couples added to the staff in the future would not receive the health insurance and the opt-out money.
The previous teacher contract contained incentives for teachers to continue their education. The board moved to continue this practice for teachers doing graduate work. They added another clause to compensate younger teachers who are working toward their Professional Development Plan.
The board then approved its compensation plan for the staff. The compensation piece is the only part of the employee handbook that can be negotiated. With this in place, the administration and staff can now begin negotiations.
District Administrator Randy Rosburg said the state threw off the district’s budgeting plans by changing one of the main numbers that will be used in the negotiation process. Salary increases will be capped at the level of the Consumer Price Index. Rosburg said schools were instructed in January that number would be 2.01 percent. Recently, school districts were told that number had changed, and the cap would now be 3.16 percent. Rosburg said that change added a potential increase of $64,000 to the staff salary package.
The school board decided to cut down its capital maintenance plans for the summer by $170,000. The board had originally planned for $300,000 worth of work to be done around the district during the summer.
The board had originally planned to replace the boiler and condenser at the middle school and repair the high school parking lot and high school steps. The board reconsidered after determinig they needed to cut $300,000 to balance the budget for the upcoming school year.
The board decided to put off the purchase of the boiler and the paving of the parking lot. The condenser will be replaced at an estimated cost of $90,000-120,000 and the high school steps will be replaced at a cost of $10,000-13,000. This will include new tile work and better drainage under the steps.
Rosburg said there are 10-12 variables the district is reviewing to make up the remaining $130,000 deficit in the upcoming budget. One major piece will be the district’s health insurance plan. The health insurance plan is currently being reviewed by J.A. Counter and should be finalized in June.
* The board accepted the retirement of high school social studies teacher Tim White. White is the third staff member to announce retirement plans. Elementary Principal Cherrie Wood’s retirement papers were accepted in January. American Sign Language teacher Linnea Natwick, who has been out for nearly two years on disability, has also announced her retirement.
* Incumbent Brian Moulton was sworn into office, as were newly elected board members Kelly Ott and Thomas Walters.
* Catherine Cranston and Marin Hansch were recognized as they served in their final meeting as board members. Cranston served six years on the school board and Hansch served four years.
* A new two-year custodial contract was approved, with a capped increase each year of 3 percent. The contract is with ISS Facility, the district’s current custodial supplier.