Bristol School Board rep tells community options still being explored on teacher post-retirement benefits

Bristol School Board members continue to explore options for dealing with certified staff post retirement benefits, a board member told the audience at a community meeting Thursday.

Kathy LeFebve, board vice president, hosted a series of meetings Thursday to present information on the  situation faced by the board. The sessions were attended by staff and community members. (I attended the last meeting of the day at 7 p.m. in the school library. — DH)

“The board is absolutely still deliberating options,”  LeFebve said. “We’ve said (to the district’s consultants) you need to go back and keep digging … We are open to any suggestions … We are interested.”

Earlier this month, the School Board  tabled a decision on a new teacher compensation plan that included what many staff saw as a reduction in retirement benefits.

The meeting Thursday started with LeFebve summarizing current benefits for Bristol certified staff. They receive:

  • Medical and dental overage, life insurance and long-term disability insurance paid 100 percent by the district.
  • Wisconsin Retirement System enrollment, funded by employee and district contributions.
  • Tuition reimbursement.
  • 10 paid sick days per academic year and two paid personal absences per academic year.
  • District funded voluntary early retirement benefits. LeFebve said the district sees this as supplemental, with the Wisconsin Retirement System as the employee’s primary retirement plan.

The early retirement benefit has been the focus of the latest discussions and decisions the board says need to be made. There are two tiers of employees effected in different ways by the early retirement benefit.

Twenty seven longer tendered employees are eligible for:

  • Health coverage subsidy paid by the district toward health insurance based on the premiums in effect on June 1, 2011 and the employee’s length of service as of June 30, 2011 and then prorated.
  • An annual stipend equal to one fourth of the retiring  employee’s base contract salary on June 1, 2011 with the number of years of years paid out based on tenure, with a maximum of seven.

Twenty two employees hired after June 1, 2011 or with less than five years of service on July 1, 2011 are eligible for a contribution into a tax sheltered annuity plan. Contributions, depending on years of service, range from $800/year to $1,500/year for each year of service.

The district is confident of being able to fund adequately the TSA contributions, LeFebve said. The stipend/health insurance subsidy group is more problematic.

Having learned late last year about a tax liability for retiring teachers regarding the stipend, the district would like to effectively lend teachers the amount of the tax liability and then have the employee pay it back over the years of the stipend, The board recently did that for two teachers retiring this year.

Another issue for the health insurance/stipend group is the mounting cost of insurance. The board assumes a 5 percent annual increase in insurance will continue.

Consequently, the board’s consultants estimate that paying the stipend, accelerating the tax liability and health insurance premiums create a total cost of $6 million for the health insurance/stipend group over the program’s horizon, estimated to be 25 years.

This exposure will become most acute when  a high number of teachers retire in the same year, as could happen in the 2019-20 school year. That could cause a drain on revenue for operations, LeFebve explained.

“There’s no doubt that this is a horrible thing to have to even decide about …” LeFebve said. “We absolutely understand how emotional this is.”

LeFebve pointed out that few school districts in the state have benefits like Bristol for current or retired employees, following the passing of Act 10 by the state legislature, which eliminated collective bargaining for most public employees. For example, Bristol is only one of eight school districts in the state that still pay 100 percent of teacher health insurance.

“No other (area) district has the breadth of benefits currently offered by Bristol,” LeFebve said.

Teachers in the audience, however, pointed out Bristol also has a lower pay schedule that many districts, including those nearby.

The district also is not necessarily looking to eliminate such benefits, but does need a way to deal with future finances.

“This board is not looking to phase out these benefits,” LeFebve said. “Our goal is to try to keep as many benefits as possible. … We have great employees we want to be able to retain them. We want to attract them … It’s a balance … We really want to balance this out.”

LeFebve also acknowledged that the board could have done a better job of communicating with teachers.  But the board’s recent efforts, including the Thursday series of meetings, drew some praise from the audience as well.

“This goes a long way to healing the bad feelings we had about it,” said Bristol special ed teacher Meighan McKeown. “We don’t teach for free, but we are fortunate to teach in the building we do teach in.”

The board is still looking for the answer, LeFebve said.

“This is in construction,” LeFebve said.


One Comment

  1. Flip102 says:

    Isn’t it time to start combining all of these “school boards” for these schools that are west of the I?? Want to talk about saving money, that would be one sure way to do it.

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