LHS teacher Tamara Bretting discusses the proposed insurance rate hikes at a May 8 school board meeting.

After delaying its decision by a week, Albany County School District No. 1’s school board opted at a special meeting Wednesday to pass on 12 percent of health insurance increases to employees.

The school board originally planned to approve the rate increase at last week’s regular meeting. That plan drew the ire of employees, who argued the rate increase should have been negotiated at a Monday meeting of the meet-and-confer committee, in which administrators, teachers and others negotiate over salaries and benefits.

“One thing that I value about our district is that we employees are able to give input into the salaries and benefits discussions through the meet-and-confer committee,” Laramie High School teacher Tamara Bretting, who sits on the meet-and-confer committee, told the school board last week.

LHS counselor Bryon Lee urged the board to delay a decision to “uphold the sanctity of that group.”

“We want to see the process of meet-and-confer honored,” Lee said. “We want the voices to be heard and we want to continue as a district to have high morale through the proactive practice of honoring committee work.”

Bretting has further urged the school board to increase all employees’ base pay, rather than offering a “step” increase through the district’s salary schedule, which doesn’t apply to all employees. Superintendent Jubal Yennie suggested a step increase as part of the budgeting process for the 2020 fiscal year.

“Many employees will see their paycheck decrease next year if you choose to pass on health insurance increases to us and don’t increase our base salaries,” Bretting said. “Essentially, they will be doing the same job for less money next year, and that is disheartening.”

The district’s health insurance rate is increasing 4.3 percent for the 2019 fiscal year. The increases will cost the district $263,800 and $36,900 for employees.

Ultimately, the board has moved forward with the insurance changes as planned, which School Board Chair Janice Marshall said shouldn’t be too controversial after the meet-and-confer discussions early this week.

“The feedback from the employee groups at the meet-and-confer process was very positive and they thought this was a good plan going forward,” Marshall said at Wednesday’s meeting.

When the proposal came before the board last week, ACSD No. 1 Business Manager Ed Goetz said it was imperative to move forward on the insurance decisions at the May meeting because the district’s insurance provider, WEBT, requires the district to turn in employees’ plan selection to the company by May 31. While WEBT didn’t need to know the breakdown of who’s paying for the increases, Goetz said the board needed to make a decision so employees have full knowledge of the costs when they select a plan this month.

If the board hadn’t made a decision this month, Goetz also said the district wouldn’t have been able to inform employees of the rate changes before the end of the school year.

At last week’s meeting, the board scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday at the suggestion of board member Lawrence Perea, who said another meeting in May could satisfy the concerns of Goetz and district employees.

“I was having a sidebar conversation with Janice, because she was here at a time in the school district when we didn’t have a lot of transparency, and I said that I don’t ever want to be a part of that ever again,” Perea said last week. “This is going to take some effort from the board. … We’re going to have to have another meeting, but I think it’s worth it to maintain that transparency and maintain the goodwill that we have with our employees.”

The decision to set a special meeting earned a round of applause of the employees who expressed concern about the circumvention of the meet-and-confer process.

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