School superintendent: No new administrators until insurance crisis is resolved | SierraSun.com

School superintendent: No new administrators until insurance crisis is resolved

Renee Shadforth, Sierra Sun

A recent $15,000 study of the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District’s administrative office calls for two new high-level positions, but the superintendent says he won’t heed the recommendations just yet.

In an interview Monday, Superintendent Dennis Williams said he does not plan on adding a director of human resources and director of business services – positions recommended by consultants at School Services of California – until district employee insurance increases are resolved.

“In light of [insurance increases], I am not going to move forward with any increased cost in the district office because the No. 1 priority is to discuss the insurance and the negotiated compensation for our employees,” Williams said.

“[Suggested] cost items are on hold. I envision using natural attrition to free up dollars that I can reallocate, so I can accomplish the recommendations in the study, so that we do not incur labor cost at the district office. That is my commitment,” he said.

Premiums with the school district’s insurance provider, Tri-County Schools Insurance Group (or Tri-CIG), are expected to double out-of-pocket expenses for many district employees by July 1.

Currently, a school district insurance committee – composed of site administrators, union representatives and school officials – hired an insurance consultant to find solutions for the pending insurance hike, Williams said. The insurance committee is also working with Tahoe Forest Hospital District to find other health care possibilities within the community.

“Regardless, even if we say with Tri-CIG, we have to help our employees meet that medical cost increase,” he said.

The district signed on with Tri-CIG last year after the insurance committee determined Tri-CIG had a low rate of premium increases. However, out-of-pocket expenses are expected to double on July 1.

“The question is ‘Were we misled?’ because, there is a huge discrepancy there,” Williams said.

Barbara York, a school bus driver and the district’s California School Employees Association representative, said many of the district’s classified employees (bus drivers, office staff and janitors, for example) won’t be able to afford the premium increases.

York said her biggest concern is the part-time staff, who take home less money but pay a higher monthly premium. The proposed monthly cost for a full-time classified employee on the premier plan is $422.75, while the proposed cost for an employee working a four- to five-hour day is $528.73.

“I don’t know where they [district administrators] are going to find employees if they increase the benefits and more classified employees will be forced to leave the district,” York said.

A compensation survey by the California School Employees Association, York pointed out, ranks TTUSD 11th among 14 K-through-12th-grade school districts in Placer County for its employer benefit contribution in 2003.

Low district office morale

The school district commissioned the study, Williams said, because of differing opinions on staffing levels in the district office – Williams believed the office was under-staffed compared to industry standards, while others say the office is over-staffed.

Williams said he agreed with many of the recommendations in the staffing report, which looked at departments within the district office and suggested immediate and long-term changes. However, the superintendent disagreed with some of the recommendations because the consultants did not have enough time to do a thorough review of the office in their two-day study, he said.

After two days of interviews, the consultants noted low morale among district office employees.

“The District’s greatest single need is to restore the sense of team so that an efficient District Office is a possibility,” according to the study. “In its current state, the morale is so low that any proposed changes will meet immediate resistance.”

The study recommends team-building and staff development opportunities to improve morale in the district office.

Williams said office morale probably isn’t as low as the study indicates.

“I think [the consultants] were talking to individual people about low morale, but we’ve talked about that as a staff and they have expressed surprise that that was seemingly a widespread kind of an issue because I wasn’t aware of it, and many that I’ve spoken to say that they don’t feet that there is [low morale],” Williams said.

One cause of “animosity and resentment between employees,” according to the study, is centered around the number of employees who are designated as “confidential” – or those with access to personnel information and not belonging to a union, according to government code. The study says the classification only applies to three positions in the district office, while roughly 11 employees have the confidential designation. The consultants recommended reclassifying the positions in accordance to government code definition.

In response to the study’s recommendation, the district office made a verbal agreement with the classified employees union to reclassify confidential positions to classified as positions that are not in line with the new law become available.