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By Carmen Ensinger
To opt out or not to opt out – that is the question. To be a little more specific – the North Greene School District is facing the dilemma of choosing to remain with Egyptian Trust to manage their health insurance or opting out of the trust and going out on their own to find the district’s employee health insurance coverage.
Board members discussed it at the Sept. 21 board meeting and it was on the agenda to opt out, but the board decided to wait another month before making a decision.
Egyptian Trust, a consortium of numerous other school districts, which was formed several years ago to operate as a way to get a lower price for health insurance by being able to “buy in bulk” so to speak. However, one of its largest school districts, Quincy School District, pulled out earlier this year and more and more school districts have followed suit.
The board first discussed leaving the trust at the August board meeting when Superintendent Mark Scott informed the board that if they decided to leave the trust they needed to make a decision as soon as possible because the longer they wait the more the withdrawal fee goes up.
Scott said he has been in meetings with the various insurance companies for the past 30 days for up to six hours a day trying to find the best option for the district.
“The main thing we have to look at is if we want to give notice at the end of the month,” Scott said. “If we do, we have to send Egyptian Trust notice along with a check for our early termination fee of $188,993, then you have 30 days for any claims incurred during that period. Dec. 1 would be the switch date for the new insurance.”
However, Scott said all of the insurance companies said the district should wait till the end of October to withdraw which would make their new insurance start on Jan. 1.
Scott said insurance is the second biggest expense for the district amounting to a $1.2 million expenditure per year.
“To me, with the projections I saw today, seeing the withdrawal fees going down, I say we hang in there at least one more month,” Scott said. “That way, if we do go fully insured, we can start on Jan. 1. I’m not saying that is going to be best for our employees because to get the best deal for the district we will have to shop it out every year, which might mean we go with a different insurance company every year.”
Another decision the board decided to wait on for another month was the decision to accept a proposal to go solar.
“Do you want to proceed with the project or not and if you do want to proceed, whose proposal do you want to accept,” Scott asked.
The district received two proposals to install solar panels on the roof of the high school – one from Forefront Power and one from Solar for All.
The proposal from Forefront Power was presented to the district by QFB Energy at the Aug. 17 board meeting. According to QFB Energy, there is absolutely no out of pocket cost at all to the district.
The financial backer of the solar implementation is the one who is responsible for all of the cost, which would be Forefront Power. Their investment is in selling that power back to the district over the 20 year life of the contract.
As an additional incentive for companies to back the solar program, Illinois has a program called Illinois Shines, which is part of the Adjustable Block Program, a state-administered program for solar photovoltaic (PV) system. The program provides payments in exchange for 15 years of Renewable Energy Credits generated by solar systems.
According to Scott, the difference between Forefront and Solar For All, is what the company will do with this 20 year contract.
“Forefront has said that they will not sell the contract to another company,” Scott said. “So if we go with them, we know who will have our contract, but Solar For All has said they will sell the contract.”
Another difference is the rate. Forefront came in with a fixed rate of .06 per kilowatt hour while Solar For All had a lower rate at .058 but its rate was a fluctuating rate with an escalator. Forefront’s rate was fixed for life. Scott said his recommendation was to go with Forefront.
It was estimated that over the 20 year period, the addition of solar to the district would save the district nearly $1 million dollars or approximately $970,000 to be more specific. Energy bills would be offset by 80 percent.
Board member Casey Nell wasn’t completely convinced that now was the time to pull the trigger on such a decision.
“I’m really not comfortable making the decision tonight,” he said. “Whoever you sign this agreement tonight is going to make a lot of money. Before we do choose someone, I would like to get someone who really knows the Illinois solar market and talk with them. I think there is opportunity out there and we hold the cards to get the best possible option for the district.”
Scott said he would try to get more proposals before the board made a decision next month.
“However, in order to qualify for all of the incentives, I do think you have to make a decision by this fall,” Scott said.
The district will be posting for a new third grade teacher after the board accepted the resignation of Lindsey Coultas, effective Oct. 21. Scott asked Roodhouse Elementary Principal Jackie Kuchy if the district had reached out to anyone to act as an interim until they could hire someone new.
“We had someone who is a former student from here and is now at Blackburn and will be a student teacher in the spring,” Kuchy said. “She indicated that Blackburn will allow her to teach and work and so I emailed her and asked her to fill out an online application and we would set up a time to meet.”
Kuchy went on to say that this former student spent some time in teacher Jody Haskell’s room last year observing so she is familiar with how things work in the district.
“So, I think we have it covered,” Kuchy said. “Hopefully, it will be something that offers some longevity because her child goes to daycare here as well.”
The board approved several other new hires as well, including creating a new position in the special education department.
The board approved creating a new full time special education paraprofessional position to be divided between the elementary and the Jr./Sr. high schools. T.J. Hurt was hired to fill this position. Penny Eilers was hired as a parent coordinator for the Bright Futures birth to three program and Ginny McPherson was hired as a secretary at the high school.
In the area of athletics, Jeremy Sharrow was approved to the position of assistant athletic director. Mark Strain was approved as the sixth grade girls basketball coach and Allison Gwartney as the assistant coach. Kayla Wahl was assigned to Junior Class Sponsor.
Shanda Robeen was approved as the junior high cheer coach and Nick and Jeremy Sharrow were approved as assistant volunteer seventh and eighth grade girls basketball coach.
The board approved Toni Booth as a substitute bus driver, despite Booth already being an employee for the district working in the Bright Future program.
“I would like to approve her as a sub driver in case we get in a bind and need to use her,” Scott said. “I talked it over with the union and they are willing to overlook some things – we just wouldn’t pull her away from her current job so she would be double dipping, but if we ever got in a bind and needed to use her – we could.”
The move would also benefit Booth.
“It is going to help her because she can keep her bus license,” Scott said. “If you don’t work for someone for a certain period of time you can lose your license and you have to start all the way back from the beginning again. So, if you have someone already with a license, I’m all for helping them keep it, especially if it could also benefit us.”