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Janesville School Board could revisit spousal surcharge issue

By Nick Crow
June 10, 2015

JANESVILLE—The Janesville School District has a "super magnet" insurance plan that attracts employee's spouses, insurance consultant David Kracht says.

What that means is the district's plan has a good design, a low payroll deduction and low employee out-of-pocket costs, Kracht told the school board Wednesday night.

Now the school board must have a philosophical discussion about how good it wants the district's insurance coverage to be, he said.

"There's no wrong answer," Kracht said. "We offer benefits to attract and retain employees. Do we want to be a magnet plan? Or is it best that the employers in the community pay for their own employees?"

The school board held a special workshop session to discuss its spousal surcharge, which it approved in April on a 5-4 vote. It requires district employees to pay a $150-per-month surcharge to keep their spouses on their insurance plan when the spouse has another plan available but chooses not to enroll in it.

Since that April decision, two new board members have been sworn in, and the 5-4 vote could change.

"This type of thing (a vote change) could happen more than in the past," said board President Kevin Murray. "We could be revisiting many similar things like this because we rule as a majority on the board."

Murray said the spousal surcharge could appear as an action item during a June school board meeting.

Voting yes for the surcharge in April were David DiStefano, Bill Sodemann, Greg Ardrey, Kristin Hesselbacher and Deborah Schilling. Voting no were Murray, Karl Dommershausen, Dale Thompson and Cathy Myers. DiStefano and Schilling are no longer on the board.

"The employees and their union had bargained for their coverage in lieu of wages," said new board member Carla Quirk. "It's a lot more than assigning a dollar figure. It goes way back. Those are things that are hard to ignore."

Keeping the surcharge in place would save the district money because of the extra fees and people deciding to leave the plan, Kracht said. It costs the district, on average, $396 per month to cover an employee's spouse, he said.

"Relative to the marketplace, the plan design attracts people," Kracht said. "It's a rich plan design."

Kracht said his consulting group, Associated Financial Group, and the district's attorneys investigated and confirmed that the surcharge was legal.

"I'll be frank," Kracht said. "My wife works for Middleton-Cross Plains schools, and I'm covered on her plan. The cost could be $150, and I'd still be on her plan. The economics say that for insurance from my employer, the cost doesn't outweigh the benefits."

There are no firm figures on how many chose to pay the surcharge and how many decided to leave the district's insurance, Kracht said. That will be known June 15.

"Any decision you make, someone is not going to be happy," he said.