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Employee health insurance, referenda discussions on Madison School Board agenda Monday

Employee health insurance, referenda discussions on Madison School Board agenda Monday


The auditorium at East High School in Madison was renovated through the 2015 capital referendum. A La Follette High School auditorium renovation is among the anticipated projects if the capital referendum is approved in November.

The Madison School Board will discuss the potential November referenda and proposed employee health insurance changes Monday.

The Operations Work Group meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. at the Doyle Administration Building, 545 W. Dayton St., is likely the last opportunity for board members to ask for broad changes ahead of anticipated votes at the March 23 meeting.

Presentations planned for the board Monday show similar referenda plans as have been discussed for months, though staff have offered up three options for the operating referendum ask in addition to the $36 million one that has been previously discussed. The additional options would all lower the amount, reducing the tax burden but also forcing tighter budgets.

The health insurance changes, first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal last week, would require employees to contribute more to their premiums and could have the district change one of its providers.

According to Monday’s meeting materials, there is a $4.6 million increase in premiums the providers will charge the district, which had budgeted $0 for an increase in funding employee benefits whether an operating referendum passes or fails. That means the gap needs to be filled in other ways.

Changes to providers and potentially changing the plans retirees use would save an estimated $3.8 million, while doubling the premium contributions for most staff would save $1.8 million, according to the presentation planned Monday. The premium contribution for teachers on the HMO plan, for example, would go from 3% to 6%, costing an extra $44.48 per month.

[Madison School Board members want to vote on referenda in March]

Options for the board to consider on providers include one that would keep GHC and Dean while adding a $100 single and $200 family deductible and moving future retirees into the Local Annuitant Health Plan. The other option would move GHC members to Quartz while keeping Dean and keeping retirees on the plans as they are now. While that would eliminate the need to add a deductible, it would require changes to primary care providers for those on GHC, while also showing potentially higher rates of cost increases in future years.

Either option would allow an extra $1 million in savings that could be reinvested into other areas of the budget.

The presentation compares the Madison Metropolitan School District to others in the area, noting that the district has had the highest cumulative salary increase among area school districts since 2017-18 at 11.73% and a much lower insurance premium employee contribution at 3%. The next lowest insurance premium contribution is at 11% in the Verona Area School District.

Referenda options

The board will consider adding $2 million to the capital referendum specifically for sustainability projects, while also looking at a lower operating ask.

Adding in the sustainability projects would bring the capital referendum up to $317 million, with $280 million for renovations at the four comprehensive high schools, $6 million to consolidate Capital High School into the Hoyt School building and about $29 million for a new elementary school on the city’s south side.

[Madison School Board considers including additional sustainability projects in referendum]

The sustainability projects with the additional $2 million would include things like additional solar installation, more efficient mechanical systems and electric vehicle charging stations.

Tax impact of the $317 million ask would cost approximately $140 per year in property taxes on the average home, according to the district's figures.

The operating referendum, meanwhile, would allow the district to increase its tax base beyond what state levy limits otherwise allow. Without an approved operating referendum, the district will need to cut $3.5 million this year and more than $12 million in the coming years, depending on the state budget.

Because the referendum is on the November ballot, months after the budget needs to be approved, the board will have to approve two budgets, one for a failed question and one for a successful question. If the taxing authority is approved, it would allow the district to surpass its levy limits by that amount in perpetuity.

The discussion has focused for the most part on a four-year increase, with $8 million in each of the first two years and $10 million in the final two. But some board members have asked staff to look at lowering those numbers, given the capital referendum and wanting to be mindful of what they ask from taxpayers.

[MMSD capital referendum gets ‘general support’ in early outreach sessions, district says]

The initial plan would bring an $87 per year incremental increase over the four years on an average home.

Three other options presented Monday would lower that. The numbers below are how much the levy would increase in each individual year, and what that would cost in each of the four years for taxes on an average home.

  • A $6M/$8M/$9M/$10M ask would bring an $80 per year incremental increase 
  • A $5M/$8M/$9M/$10M ask would bring a $77 per year incremental increase 
  • A $4M/$8M/$9M/$10M ask would bring a $75 per year incremental increase 

Projects that would receive additional investments in an approved referendum include a base wage increase of the maximum 1.8% and an additional $700,000 in strategic equity projects like mental health programming and continuation of the West High School microschool, assuming a $6 million ask for year one.

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.

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Madison Metropolitan School District administrators presented two options for those changes Monday night, one of which would create a deductible while maintaining the GHC plan, which is what board members indicated support for. The other would change primary care providers for a large number of staff members by changing insurance from GHC to Quartz, but could save on long-term costs.