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Health insurance change affects Superior bus drivers

(Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com) A School District of Superior bus rests at the bus garage in Superior.

Last week, the Superior School Board approved changes to employee handbooks that will impact health coverage, dental coverage and teacher salaries.

The Board passed two measures by a 3-0 vote, with President Len Albrecht abstaining.

The item drawing the most attention was language for the school district’s health insurance policy.

Karen Johnson, a bus driver for the school district, asked the Board to reconsider the policy. A change made in July 2015 increased the number of hours employees must average to qualify for health care coverage, and the Board was voting to reaffirmed that change with the language approved June 7.

“I don’t see us getting any bus drivers knocking at the door looking for a job,” Johnson said. “I hope you consider that bus drivers do need health care.”

Previously, bus drivers and other support staff employees averaging 25 hours a week had qualified for coverage. Now, those employees must average 30 hours a week — the minimum standard set by the Affordable Care Act.

Superior district administrator Janna Stevens said no employees lost their insurance coverage as a result of the changes last year. Employees hired prior to July 1, 2015, were exempt from the changes.

New employees, however, must follow the new requirements.

Kari Holmes, a school district bus driver for 14 years, said that is making it difficult to bring drivers to the district.

“The three drivers who came on board (this year) thought they were going to get benefits, and now they’re not,” Holmes said. “It’s hard to get bus drivers.”

One driver hired this year is already leaving for the Maple school district, she said.

“Maple gives benefits at 4.75 hours (per day),” Holmes said. “At Superior it’s six hours.”

Stevens acknowledged that the Maple school district has a lower benchmark for benefit eligibility, but she said the school district also made drastic cuts to drivers’ hours recently.

“They too are trying to make ends meet, just like we are,” Stevens said.

In another cost-saving measure, Superior’s dental insurance policy was amended to provide employees with coverage only if they also participate in the health care plan. The district had previously provided all employees with free dental insurance, regardless of their health insurance participation.

Employees hired prior to July 1, 2016 are exempt from the dental insurance changes.

The second measure approved June 7 adjusted teachers’ contracted days and addressed how teachers advance on the pay scale.

New salary schedules for teachers were approved last month, but an addendum was tacked on last week. The new language states that teachers with a 50 percent or less contract must work two years before advancing to the next step on the pay scale.

Teachers’ work schedules were also changed. The Board cut the number of days required under contact by one and eliminated a compensation policy that had been unpopular. That policy provided teachers with a $500 stipend for working the first three staff development days of the year. Stevens said the $500 is now part of teachers’ annual salary, and there will only be two staff development days prior to the start of the school year.

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