It's official.. if you're married to a Hamilton County school employee, you'll need to have insurance at your own job. If you do not, you'll have to pay to stay on the county schools' insurance plan.
The Hamilton County School Board made that decision yesterday to stave off a four million dollar budget shortfall, and the controversial move has left teachers, seething with anger, and, vowing to try to do something about it.
The problem is what one Hamilton County School Board calls, a growing insurance issue, caused by health care coverage for people who do not work for the school system. "No one likes it," says Greg Martin, School Board member for District 3, "but we don't have a plethora of money that's coming in to the Department of Education to take care of that added expense."
The main issue at the specially called board meeting was to talk about eliminating employee spouses from the school system's health plan. If employee spouses do not have a health plan at their OWN jobs, THEY'LL have to pay 100 dollars a month to remain on the school system's insurance plan.
"Concern was something that was expected," says Superintendent Rick Smith. "I expect our teachers to respond when they feel like something like this is being discussed."
And respond, they did. Tracy Fletcher, a teacher at Red Bank Middle, says teachers have had to make concessions to management over the years, to help balance the school budget. "I'm angry because this is the one perk that Hamilton County gave to us and now they're taking it away."
Other teachers were more blunt. "I'm a teacher," says Nina Denton, "I'm teaching your kids. I want some respect."
That thought was not lost in the sometimes heated school board meeting. "It hurts to think that teachers feel unappreciated," District 5 board member Jeffrey Wilson told the crowd, and a few 'amen's were heard.
Discussion was tense. District 1 board member Rhonda Thurman told the group, "if we don't do something, there are some people that are not only going to lose their insurance, they're going to lose their job."
She went on. "Either the taxpayers pay the four million dollar deficit, or (teachers) going to have to pay it." That assertion rankled many people in the audience.
But in the end, Board Chairman Mike Evatt's vote of 'yes,' made the decision unanimous, and the meeting was quickly adjourned.
About 17-hundred spouses of the school system employees are affected. Right now, it is not known if the decision will come up again, when teachers begin talks with the school board about contracts.
Open enrollment for school employees begins in October, and the board's decision, goes into effect in January.
By Calvin Sneed