Health care reform could impact Shenandoah County’s substitute teachers

By Kim Walter

The Shenandoah County School Board might have to make some tough decisions in the coming months because of changes with insurance requirements for the division’s employees.

Andrew Ansoorian, director of human resources, and Jeremy Raley, assistant superintendent of administration and finance, gave a presentation on health care reform and its impacts on the school system during Thursday night’s School Board meeting.

Ansoorian covered the basics, explaining that employers with more than 50 employees would have to either provide insurance to them, or pay a penalty. He said the division had to put together a compliance report to ensure it was keeping up with insurance standards.

The good news, he said, is that the school system passed all major compliance areas to date. Thanks to the help of Local Choice, the county’s insurance plan provider, Ansoorian said compliance was ensured in many of the audit areas in the report.

Some compliance results still will require the division to take care of a few things, though.

By July of next year, the division will need to provide insurance to employees who meet the new full-time employee definition.

Ansoorian explained that the definition could get a little complicated. A full-time employee will be one who averages 30 or more hours of “service” a week over a certain measurement period, which would likely be 10 to 12 months.

While it might seem simple to limit a number of employees to 29 hours a week, Ansoorian said that substitute, temporary, or seasonal – “variable” – positions create a unique exposure to possible financial challenges.

“We have close to 200 substitute teachers actively in our system, and that could really impact us,” he said.

The real issue for the division, though, likely will come from its inability to track exactly how many hours these “variable” employees are working. In order for the division to justify an employee not being eligible for health insurance, it will need to have the hard numbers to prove it, Ansoorian said.

The technology to track the data isn’t new, but it’s not something the division is currently using.

“We are still working in a very manual environment in Shenandoah County schools,” he said. “We still have paper time sheets.”

Ansoorian said to track the hours worked over such a long measurement period will be “labor intensive,” and he worries the current staff won’t be able to do it.

Unfortunately, the measurement period of determining an employee’s status starts July 1.

Raley said he tried to determine how many substitutes worked more than 30 hours per week during the past school year. He came up with 36, but said it was a low estimate.

“It’s probably more like 50 or 60,” he said. “But again, it’s hard to be accurate when we have no way of tracking the specific numbers.”

With the estimated numbers, Raley figured that the division would have to pay an additional $217,296 if it decided to offer coverage to the new “full-time” employees.

However, if the school system opts to not offer insurance, the penalties could range anywhere from $108,000 to $1.4 million.

Raley went over the options with the School Board, and suggested it consider an entirely different approach to substitute teachers. He recommended that the division pay a third party to find, train and employ all substitutes – this way concerns over insurance would be completely out of the picture.

“I’m worried that if we limit our subs to 29 hours a week to avoid paying for insurance, we’re going to lose some of our best substitute teachers,” he said. “This way, we wouldn’t have to worry about how much they work, and we’d be getting good workers.”

Ansoorian and Raley suggested that the School Board schedule a work session to continue the discussion on what direction they want to take, and have a decision made by September 1. At that time, the board’s policy will have to be modified to reflect the new definition of full-time employee.

School Board member Rick Koontz said the stakes are high when it comes to substitute teachers.

“They are a very important part of our work force … without them, we would have classrooms of kids without supervision or the ability to learn,” he said. “This is going to be a tough decision that we will have to make very soon.”

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com