Enrollment up, budget worries up tooThe Cloquet School Board is still discussing potential ramifications of the Affordable Care Act even though the federal government has delayed reporting requirements for one year.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The Cloquet School Board is still discussing potential ramifications of the Affordable Care Act even though the federal government has delayed reporting requirements for one year.
Prior to Monday night’s board meeting, members held a discussion with Superintendent Ken Scarbrough regarding the new law and how it may impact the district with property tax increases already looming on the horizon.
Board member Jim Crowley estimated the costs of providing health care insurance across the district at about a million dollars, figures which weren’t confirmed by Scarbrough but which may be daunting no matter what their eventual total is.
While Crowley said he believes everyone is entitled to health care, compliance with the federal law might be a budget-buster.
“I’m worried about our budget being able to sustain it,” Crowley said. “In the end, you’ll see kids suffer for it.”
The board may increase the school district’s cut of the Cloquet property tax dollar by 14 percent at its next meeting on Sept. 23, which would add over $1.1 million to the district’s coffers each year. But a good portion of that amount could go right back out the door in insurance costs.
“We don’t have anything solid to grab ahold of yet,” Scarbrough said, in reference to both financial figures and information on how to implement the new law.
The government has delayed the implementation of business reporting requirements regarding the law until Jan.1, 2015, leading to questions about when the district must in fact be accountable.
“We were supposed to report on Jan. 1, 2014, but our health care insurance year starts on Sept. 1, so technically we didn’t have to be compliant until Sept. 1, 2014, before,” Scarbrough said. “The government has asked businesses to be in voluntary compliance by then, yet we’ve asked for information on whether we have until Sept. 1, 2015, with the year’s delay and nobody seems to be able to tell us.”
One unintended consequence of the delay in the law will come in negotiating union contracts. State law requires two-year contracts with teachers’ unions for individual school districts, but changes in the health care laws will make that difficult.
“What you’ll see is that it will make negotiating contracts of longer than one year difficult,” Scarbrough said.
Crowley, however, was concerned about the long-term impact on the district budget and, in turn, impact on students.
“I saw a student the other day who had a textbook that looked like it had been through the laundry 15 times,” Crowley said. “We have got problems and a major hurdle to overcome.”
Some businesses around the country have cut hours for certain employees to put them below the 30-hour threshold to receive medical benefits under the law. Scarbrough has said in the past that the district does not plan to adopt this practice but said Monday that if it should be required, it would need to happen soon.
“If we are reducing hours, we need to act by Jan. 1, because there may be federal law regarding that,” he said.
During the meeting, Scarbrough also reported the district has 2,491 students enrolled in all grades.
“We’re very happy with that number,” he said. “We still don’t have exact numbers yet because kids are still coming and going, but we want to get that number finalized very soon.”
In other actions:
The board also voted to enter into a lease agreement with Wells Fargo for $102,000 for the purchase of technology equipment.
Cloquet Community Education Director Ruth Reeves reported to the board that the district’s “Time for Tots” preschool program received a maximum four-star rating from Parent Aware, a program of the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services. The program is designed to provide children aged three to kindergarten age with school behavior skills necessary to succeed.
“When you look at the early childhood program in the district, you see a tremendous amount of organization and a tremendous benefit to our district,” Scarbrough said.
Editor’s note: Superintendent Ken Scarbrough also has a column on Page A4 of this week’s Pine Journal addressing the various challenges the district faces.