ARLINGTON — All Arlington school district employees will receive 2 percent salary increases and incentives for participating in a wellness program as a part of the district’s 2014-15 budget.The 2 percent increases will cover the 2014-15 school year and will cost the district an estimated $6.7 million annually. Employees will also have the option to sign up for an employee wellness plan that will reduce their health insurance premiums by $20 a month.Trustees voted 6-0 on the measures late Thursday night after reviewing recommendations from the Financial Futures Committee, an advisory group made up of teacher’s associations, parents and community members.Board President Bowie Hogg was away on a business trip. The final budget of $508,353,783, which includes $21 million for a new elementary school to be built in far east Arlington, will be approved after a public forum June 26. Kecia Mays, who served on the committee and was sworn onto the school board recently, said she is pleased the district is making sure pay is marketable.“I have heard no complaints from employees or teachers,” Mays said following the vote. “Honestly I don’t even know if a lot of them were expecting any type of increase.”Last June, the district gave its employees a 3 percent raise for the 2013-14 school year, and increased the beginning teacher salary to $50,000. Trustees also provided equity adjustments for teachers with 1-20 years experience at 3.8 percent on average. In March, more than 2,000 employees were given 2-3 percent salary adjustments after a salary market study showed that professionals such as assistant principals were rejecting job offers because of the pay.Trustee John Hibbs said the salary increase will keep the district “extremely competitive,” and the wellness program will help offset the pressures of rising healthcare costs.Troubling state programCurrently, 56 percent of Arlington school district employees participate in the TRS-Active Care statewide health coverage program, according to chief financial officer Cindy Powell. The district learned that premiums will increase by 4-8 percent for two of the three healthcare plans, and deductibles will increase by 4.2 percent on one of the plans, Powell said this week.According to state law, districts that join the statewide health coverage program cannot opt out, Powell said. The thought process is that by keeping the size of eligible groups stable, the premiums on claims are spread out and the cost goes down.“They don’t want district’s jumping in and out,” Powell said.But costs have only continued to increase, further burdening employees, many say.“It’s almost like they didn’t deliver on the promise, and insurance keeps skyrocketing up,” said Jessica Lavy, president of the Arlington chapter of the United Educator’s Association. “Hopefully in the next legislative session UEA will work with the district to help promote legislation to opt out of TRS Active-Care.”By offering an employee wellness program the district is providing some financial assistance and using confidential data collected to go out and bid in the market if the law is changed.Powell said the district will press for a change to the upcoming legislative session. “If we had that option to leave TRS-Active Care, they would not provide claims data to us on AISD plan participants, which would make it hard for us to go out there and get bids. Through the wellness plan we would have data to share with companies,” she said. All employees can take part in the wellness program, even those not insured with the district, and receive incentives like free flu shots. It’s up to employees to decide whether they want to participate. The entire program could cost the district $1.3 million annually.Open enrollment for TRS Active-Care for all school district employees is July 21-Aug. 31. Free lunch for copsParticipating employees will take part in confidential assessments and receive encouragement to live healthier through things like smoking-cessation programs, Hibbs said.“I am hopeful that this will help,” Trustee Aaron Reich said. “It’s a step in the right direction. … The TRS-Active Care plan has just increased and increased and increased, and in my opinion some years much more than the rest of the market.”Board members also voted 6-0 to approve four other recommendations made by its Financial Futures Committee.The cost of those recommendations is $219, 533 and includes a pilot program to provide free lunch for uniformed police officers to eat at schools. The operating surplus for next year is $9.3 million. Once the budget is approved, that number will drop to $984,983.But the district is going to use $21 million in surplus funds to build a new elementary in 2014-15, which will bring it to a $20 million deficit. “What is key to us is looking at if we are staying within our annual revenues,” Powell said. “Yes we are. We aren’t spending any more on annual operating costs then we are getting in revenue. We are taking $21 million to construct an elementary school in addition to expenditures. That’s a very good use of surplus fund dollars. That $21 million will benefit the students for decades.”June 26 public meetingThe district will conduct a public hearing at 7 p.m. June 26 to discuss the budget and proposed tax rate. The meeting will take place at the administration building on 1203 W. Pioneer Parkway.
Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792 Twitter:@MonicaNagyFWST