Board employees to vote on Medicare

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 25, 2004


Staff Reporter

RESERVE – Persons hired by the St. John Parish school system before March 31, 1986 were not required to pay Medicare insurance, but after Thursday’s school board meeting, they now have the option to add it to their benefits.

The School Board on Thursday adopted a resolution to request authorization of referendum for hospital insurance (Medicare only coverage). What this means to the more than 200 employees affected is that they will pay 1.45 percent of their salary to receive the benefit, and the school board will match the same amount.

Thursday’s decision allows qualified workers to vote on the benefit on an individual basis.

Felix Boughton, executive director of business and finance, told the Board that the decision to pay into Medicare will benefit the school system in the long run.

“This is a long-term solution, it can’t be done overnight,” he said. “But it will eventually shift liability from the school system to the government.”

He cited the fact that Medicare would become the employee’s primary insurance, with the school insurance as secondary. Thus, less cost in the long run for the school system.

There are stipulations expected of those who decide to go with the plan. Since Medicare benefits are based on a yearly timeframe, divided into quarters, employees would have to pay premiums retroactive to July 2003. Then they could begin to have the premiums deducted from their paycheck.

Those qualified employees who are affected will be notified of the School Board’s approval to pay part of the premium, said Boughton, and he plans to hold an informational meeting with them.

The next step would be for the employees to meet with a Social Security representative for exact details. Then can then elect to participate or decline in Medicare insurance.

After the school board unanimously approved the idea of allowing the employees to elect their participation, board member Russ Wise said, “Although we won’t see benefits for

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10 or 20 years, it’s definitely a win-win situation.”

In other news at the meeting, the School Board approved to pay the travel expenses incurred by three board members this past summer. Keith Jones and Patrick Sanders both attended two conferences – the Southern Regional Education Board in Memphis in July; and the Fourth Annual African-American School Board Members Summit in Detroit in August.

Alexia Henderson also joined her fellow board members at the Detroit event. The decision to pay the charges comes on the heels of a controversy about whether or not the charges were made while there was a ban on members travel expenses.

The School Board voted this past summer to accept a ban on travel-related expenses. After that meeting, one board member decided to change his vote, which in turn, changed the outcome of the approval.

There was some question as to the legality of the situation, and a letter was sent to the state attorney general for clarification.

It became a moot point, though, as the board rescinded the ban at their meeting last month.

Recently, board members received a letter from School Board attorney Lloyd LeBlanc referring to the charges. L’Observateur was not able to obtain a copy of the letter, and it was not discussed at Thursday’s meeting.

All board members, except for Dowie Gendron, approved the payment of the charges. Gendron said he had no problem with the motion to approve, but was concerned that what the Board was doing may not be legal. “If it was determined that it is illegal to allow expenses during the ban, could we be violating state law?” he said. LeBlanc replied that he believed that nothing was done illegally.

When making the motion for approval, Wise said, “Let’s put this to bed. These are honorable folks.”

After the approval, he added, “We are now free and clear from this point on. We’re done – let’s go on”