New health care law raises questions for school district

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comOctober 20, 2013 

Like many employers, the Beaufort County School District is still trying to estimate the effect of the Affordable Care Act, but it appears substitute teachers could bear the brunt of the new health care law, schools officials say.

Although the district might not have a definitive answer about its obligations for several months, some are concerned the district will be required to provide benefits for substitutes who work more than 30 hours a week, according to human resources officer Alice Walton.

"That's our biggest entity of people who work not full time but come in and out of the district frequently," Walton said.

Such an expensive proposition might force the district to choose between paying benefits or cutting back substitutes' hours.

All full-time employees will continue to have their health insurance, Walton said. But substitutes are among the part-time employees who might not qualify for coverage.

To qualify for employer-provided coverage under the Affordable Care Act, employees must work for more than 30 hours per week. The average weekly hours are determined by dividing the hours an employee worked by the number of work weeks in the school year, Walton said.

Last year, 19 part-time staff members regularly crossed the 30-hour threshold, according to Walton, who expects 15 to 25 will this year.

The district began tracking its part-time employees' hours Oct. 4, to determine how many work more than 30 hours, according to superintendent Jeffrey Moss. The group also includes support staff and teacher aides, but Walton said substitute teachers make up the largest group.

Moss said it is too early to tell if the district would provide coverage for those employees or create policies to keep them from working more than 30 hours per week. The district will consider all options, he said.

Limiting hours could create problems for substitutes who fill in for regular teachers who are on extended absence. It also might be bad news for popular substitutes frequently requested by teachers.

Several substitute teachers declined to comment on how the new health care law might affect them because they did not know enough about it.

Beaufort County isn't the only district grappling with the mandate.

An article Thursday on a website run by the conservative Investor's Business Daily says more than 100 school districts have cut the hours or outsourced support jobs, such as teacher aides, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

Bluffton High principal Mark Dievendorf said his school uses many of the same substitutes on a daily basis and is currently using two long-term substitutes.

He said changing substitutes or not being able to request those known to be successful could have big effects in the classroom, possibly negative.

"When you're changing routines or changing people, in some situations that adjustment may be more difficult from a student's perspective," Dievendorf said.

School board member Jim Beckert, who chairs the board's Human Resources Committee, said the district might be able to bear the cost of coverage because the number of people who would qualify is small.

"When it comes to long-term subs, or you find one you like that does teach efficiently and effectively and controls the classroom, why wouldn't you want them there the entire time for continuity for students and their success?" Beckert asked. "That's almost the price of doing business."

Moss said there is still a lot of time before any decision is made on what policy could be put in place.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Related content: 100 School Districts Cut Work Hours, Blame ObamaCare, Investor's Daily Business http://news.investors.com/politics-obamacare/101813-675710-100-school-di...

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