In a sit-down with her school system’s “non-certified” employees Monday, Oneida Special School District director of schools Ann Sexton called a decision to reduce their hours and — in some cases — eliminate insurance benefits one of the toughest decisions she has had to make.
The small school system is in a position not unlike that of many of America’s smaller employers: attempting to meet the requirements of the federal Affordable Health Care Act while adhering to a strict, fixed budget.
In the Oneida school system, administrators made the decision to “reclassify” some 75 employees. (See story, page A1.) While those employees will see their pay scales frozen and will essentially be working fewer hours for the same amount of money and benefits, they will not be offered health insurance by OSSD. And nearly two dozen of them who currently take insurance through the school system will lose that coverage, effective Dec. 31.
It is a difficult proposition, but a sign of the times.
There is little doubt that “Obamacare,” as it is dubbed, will be a benefit to hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers who were previously unable to afford health insurance if it is able to achieve its stated goal of providing everyone insurance with premiums that do not exceed 9.5 percent of their gross wages. But that only works because employers — those who employ more than 50 workers — are forced to pick up a significant chunk of the tab. The reality is that some workers will lose their jobs and others will lose hours, which will often equate to lost wages, as employers find ways to meet these new federal requirements.
The approach by the local school system is not perfect, but it is much more ideal than some of the alternatives in a scenario where there may be no perfect approach. If administrators are correct, OSSD’s approach will not cost anyone their jobs, nor will it result in lost wages for employees.
And, if promises made by the federal government are kept, there will be programs available through which employees will be able to obtain health care coverage at the same rates the school system would have been able to offer.
At a stated cost of $300,000 per year to the system and with other funding cuts already being absorbed into its budget, it is hard to envision a scenario in which OSSD had much of a choice. Most of us had mothers who told us at some point in our childhood that money does not grow on trees. Suffice it to say that most employers who rely on public tax money for their operating budgets do not have an extra $300,000 just lying around somewhere. And, in order to make enough cuts to free up $300,000, OSSD would have had to cut positions — perhaps dozens. Even if that were feasible, doing so would have resulted in another significant blow to a local economy already reeling from hundreds of job losses that have not been recovered.
It is not an approach that is likely to leave everyone happy, but if recent business headlines are any indication, it is the new reality.