MONTCLAIR, NJ - Health care costs were the focal point of the Board of School Estimate (BoSE) meeting on Monday. Amid the concerns, the proposed 2016-2017 District Budget was approved.

While there will be no changes to the benefits offered to district staff and Mayor Robert Jackson said he was “not advocating current staff benefits,” he was abundantly clear that he wanted to know if there were any options to save on benefits.
 
Jackson and the board received information regarding the board’s health care cost as compared to the State Employee Health Benefits Plan (SEHBP), a benchmark for which costs are compared against.

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Board member and Councilor Bill Hurlock remarked, "These increases are far outpacing inflation." When the Board questioned the benefits broker on what exactly is that drives the increases the board and public were told a list of contributing variables. This list included an increase in cost on the prescription drug side of health care; an aging population creates an increase in service cost; increased cost of injectable drugs.

To give a better explanation of these increases, here are a few numbers to ingest: the typical generic is $30-50 per monthly script compared to a name brand equivalent at $200-500 per monthly script; with an Injectable coming in at $1,000 -$10,000+ per monthly script. It should also be noted that since the Districts switch to Horizon on July 1, 2015 the District’s loss ratio was at 120% compared to the year prior. However, it is believed that the District is currently trending in claims/ loss as projected. It should also be noted that in terms of claim history 20% of people cause 80% of the claims for the Board’s size of approximately 1,000 employees.

After swallowing that big pill, the Board entertained questions and comments from the Public.

Bob Bayne asked if there were any high deductive plans being offered. Brian Fleischer responded that there weren't and went on to explain that all benefits have to be negotiated with the unions. An alternative suggestion of a Health Savings Account was made.

Also in open comment, Selma Avdicevic called attention to the Capital Budget item for Watchung School for turf replacement in the amount of $1.3 Million. Avidcevic raised concerns that this amount is in large part going to make sure the lacrosse field will be of regulation standard and not necessarily for Watchung students.

Additionally Avidcevic addressed concerns about the change of the Home Economics and Woodshop classrooms to STEM workshops. She stated that while she believes in its importance, she also believed that it should start with the Science and Technology Magnet and grow out to other schools from there.

Gayle Shepard, President of the MEA, brought up serious issues with the Board Appointees and once again voiced opinions on the alleged assessment leak and interference with board communications.

It is expected that these topics will be heard again at the upcoming Board Workshop meeting Wednesday.

Robinson and Manos, (photographed) of the Negotiation team for the MEA, spoke to the soliciting specific dollar amount on forensic companies, attorney fees, and other expenses spent by the 2012 District Board. de Koninck responded that the board is working on a response and reviewing information and while hopeful for a real response to be provided on or before Wednesday's workshop meeting.           

After much discussion and with more discussion to come, Jackson and the BoSE has approved the 3.99% tax increase with the understanding that the Board of Education will need to go back to the drawing board and reposition some dollars to find potential savings.

Jackson also remarked that “This council has made it a point of dealing with debt in this town.” "...The concept of increasing debt is not one that sits particularly well with our council. We are working within a context of reducing our debt by a million dollars next year" "In 2016 the town, for the town, our schools and utilities, we will be paying of $13m in principals next year."

Out of the roughly $6 Million that will be dedicated to township projects, the Board has agreed to authorize $3.3 Million of new debt for capital projects going forward.

Going forward, Mayor Jackson and other members of the BoSE would like to see a commitment to the board that the town works together over the next 6 years towards working down the townships debt.

David Deutsch aptly summed up the situation by saying, "We're at a point with 11 schools and 13 buildings, all the buildings, except for Bullock, are at least 40 years old, and some 100 years old" "The issue we are going to continue to face... is the town issues the debt and it's in their budget."

de Koninck voiced her concerns by asking, "What do we think the investment in our school should be and how do we get there?" deKoninck’s goal to complete her duties as well as maintain the health and safety of all staff and students, did not fall on deaf ears.

With a packed Workshop agenda covering: K-5 Literacy, District Cirricula, World Languages and more, there is a lot to look forward to.

In addition to the agenda items, it will be interesting to see how the budget will fare with the Town’s standing on reducing debt, Bolandi and the Board having a long wish list and not having capacity to complete some or all of the most important projects in house or in a reasonable time.

The next Board of Education Workshop is Wednesday at 6:30 P.M at the George Innes Annex.