Board extends long-term care, for now

Published on: 2/28/2012

Germantown - Administrators and School Board members disagree on who is to blame, but the mixed messages coming from the Germantown School District surrounding long-term care benefits for retirees were clarified Monday.

In a vote late Monday night, the board approved another extension of the district's window to drop WEA (Wisconsin Education Association) Trust as the district's long-term care provider until April 1, this time explicitly requesting a meeting with legal counsel and the district's insurance consultant to discuss alternative plans for retired employees.

The question is whether dropping the plan for current employees would jeopardize benefits of retired employees.

'I'm a little confused as to what transpired,' board member Bruce Warnimont said, adding that he expected only current staff would lose coverage.

Another board member, Cari Brust, agreed, adding that she believed the administration had failed to act on a mandate from the board.

'It was a failure by the administration to act based on the board's recommendation,' Brust said, speaking of an apparent desire to have alternative long-term care plans presented to the board. 'At no point did the board say we didn't want to live up to their obligation.'

Superintendent Sue Borden fervently disagreed, standing by her position as stated in a Feb. 16 NOW article, in which she asserts the board's inaction at a recent meeting would mean the loss of long-term care for staff. Borden unequivocally stated she did not feel as though the board had offered any direction to her or her staff to make any decisions regarding a new plan.

Long-standing issue

The disagreement began after a December board decision to drop long-term care for current employees to save the $250,000 a year the district spends on long-term care.

WEA Trust subsequently informed the district it wouldn't cover retired employees if current employees were not also covered. The district's legal team informed the district of the various legal risks surrounding the loss of coverage for former union staff and current contract administrators.

Throughout the process, there have been vocal opponents to the district's position on long-term care, including Joe and Karen Kitzinger.

'Some of the board members don't understand what quality education entails,' Karen, a retired Germantown teacher, said.

'Give me pencil and paper and I can teach kids. You can give a bad teacher millions and millions of dollars in resources, but if it isn't a good teacher, it's not going to make a difference.'

Joe Kitzinger admitted he has a vested interest in the issue given his wife's history with the district but said his concern is about more than his family.

'I don't like the direction that the School Board is taking in trying to squeeze cost above all,' he said after speaking at Monday's meeting. 'You have to attract quality teachers, and you're not going to attract quality teachers and get quality education at bargain-basement prices in a free market.'

In January, the board voted to push back the date to drop WEA in an apparent effort to find alternatives for retired employees and the other groups, while clarifying the district's legal position.

After a recent meeting brought about no action from the board despite having the option to extend benefits, NOW ran a story Feb. 16 detailing the administration's response to the board's alleged inaction. In it, the superintendent is quoted a number of times discussing the board's decision not to extend the benefit and how that would affect the district moving forward. Borden said her quotes were accurate and that her position was correctly represented.

The article was mentioned a number of times during the meeting and seemed to highlight the gap between what the board apparently expected and what the administration actually accomplished.

Tom Bowe, a board member who has been leery of taking a stand on this issue, suggested the board keep the benefit for all employees through June 30, when the district's $5.5 million health care policy would be up for renewal.

He suggested long-term care be a part of the bidding process and the district ask companies to offer a plan that lowers the burden of cost on the district. A motion to that effect failed, 5-2.

There was also discussion about the nine retired administrators with whom the district has individual contracts, enhancing the district's legal obligation to provide benefits. Brust suggested the district buy out those nine employees at a cost of $200,000, which would save the district in subsequent years from having to pay annual premium costs.