MAPS eyes insurance options

MARQUETTE – After recognizing the district’s retirees, the Marquette Area Public Schools Board of Education Monday once again tackled issues concerning employee benefits arising from new state laws.

Assistant Superintendent for Finance Deb Barry provided a budget update to the board, focusing on health insurance and total revenues and expenditures for the 2012-2013 school year.

To stay compliant with 2011’s Public Act 152, which governs publicly funded health insurance contributions, Barry said the district has the option to choose between offering its employees hard cap health insurance – in which the district would not be allowed, by state law, to pay more than a specific dollar amount toward employee health insurance – or an 80/20 plan, in which the district would pay 80 percent of health premiums while employees would pay 20 percent. Barry stressed the discussion only applied to health insurance and not other types of insurance, such as vision or dental.

Barry said some issues have already risen in other districts throughout the state that chose the hard cap plan, after cash in lieu of health insurance payments caused some to go over their state-allotted cap. Barry said state law requires districts that go over their hard cap to lose 10 percent of their state funding.

MAPS currently offers its employees a cash in lieu of health insurance option.

Barry said the 80/20 option was already built into the assumptions for next year’s budget, since it was the option used in the 2012-2013 school year, and would likely be the safest route to take.

Barry also explained a June budget amendment to the board, which showed significant changes in local and state revenues.

During discussion on those changes, Vice President Scott Brogan mentioned a November state tax tribunal decision to allow the Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse in Marquette Township to have its taxable value assessed as though it was vacant, saying it would negatively affect a state already struggling economically.

He called the ruling by tax tribunal Judge Victoria L. Enyart – who ruled in favor of Lowe’s after it appealed its original taxable value of $10.4 million, deciding instead it should be $3.5 million – “mysterious” and said now the state would be forced to make up the difference.

That difference was reflected during Barry’s budget update, with local revenues dropping by more than $100,000 and state revenue rising by almost the same amount. Barry said most of the drop in local tax revenues could be attributed to the Lowe’s decision.

Marquette Township appealed Enyart’s ruling in January. A hearing has yet to be scheduled.

In other action, the board accepted a joint bid from Wright Electric of Marquette and Superior Eagle of Ishpeming for the installation of wiring required to move forward with a wireless network on MAPS’ campus. The bid came in at $30,591.32, which will be covered by a state grant of more than $31,000 which can be used for technological improvements in the district. Work should be completed over the summer.

The board also heard a presentation from Tanya Sprowl, coordinator of the district’s Title VII programming, which offers tutoring and other services to Native American students who qualify for the program.

With a 7 percent Native population, Sprowl said MAPS has a large number of Native American students when compared with the national average of less than 1 percent.

The Title VII program is funded entirely by a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which is based on the number of students enrolled in the program, and can only be used for direct services for the students. It also receives additional funding from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and the Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, which Sprowl said is used to pay for materials for the students and to help fund a summer camp. On average, the program sees roughly 220 students.

The board also voted to adopt a slate of updates and changes to a number of district policies.

The board went into closed session for roughly one hour to discuss attorney/client privileged information, after which it adjourned the meeting.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.