Health insurance premium increases for employees and how to fairly share proceeds from the potential extension of the half-cents sales tax with charter schools dominated the Manatee County School Board meeting Tuesday.
A tearful Judy Cumpston, a 17-year bus driver with the district, spoke before the board about the increases in health insurance premiums. Unions are ratifying tentative agreements this week that would include increased premiums for any employees who cover themselves and their spouses, through a spousal plan or a family plan. The increase in the premiums have been creating anxiety for some employees, who first learned of the change last week.
“I’m asking, ‘Can you do something? Can you stand behind us?’ We are the first thing that those kids see every morning,” Cumpston said. “I thought it was going to be better and it’s not any better.”
Two other bus drivers also spoke about how the increase would affect them, including Robert Hicks. Hicks and his wife, who also works in the district, will split up on the insurance, since the insurance premium is not increasing for employees who cover themselves or their children, but Hicks said he was concerned about how this would affect other bus drivers.
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“I don’t understand the reasoning for this. These people don’t make any money. They don’t get any hours. I drove three elementary routes for the same school today because we didn’t have bus drivers,” he said.
Cumpston also spoke of some of the issues bus drivers face, including a shortage of drivers and bad hours. More bus drivers, wearing their light blue uniforms, sat in the audience but did not speak before the board.
The board did not take any action on the issue Tuesday, as the unions have to ratify the tentative agreements before the agreement can come before the board for a final vote at a later date. If the unions fail to ratify the agreements, union representative and district representatives can try to work out another agreement.
Officials representing charter schools also spoke before the board Tuesday, questioning a plan devised by Superintendent Diana Greene to share the sales tax revenue with the district’s charter schools. The plan is contingent on whether the requested extension of the sales tax, which brings in about $30 million a year, passes on Nov. 8.
Speaking on behalf of Palmetto Charter School, principal Brian Bustle said his community was ready to vote yes or no on the referendum depending on the district’s plan. Both Bustle and Bill Jones, the principal at Manatee School for the Arts, asked the district to rethink some of the parts of the plan Greene put forward.
“Our families are taxpayers, too,” Bustle said.
Greene’s plan, which includes allowing charter to apply for annual grants to receive some funds from the sales tax revenue, needs a lot of work, Jones said.
“I don’t believe for a minute that the charter schools are going to see any money out of this proposal or that if we do, that we’ll be able to use it for what we want,” he said.
After a protracted discussion, the board adjusted the original motion, amending the language to guarantee fund amounts for the first year but leaving room for the process to change and evolve.
“We want to support the charters,” said Charlie Kennedy, the board vice chair. “We would be better served by being crystal clear on what this process looks like.”
In other business Tuesday:
- An item about a piece of property in Palmetto technically owned by district was pulled from the agenda. The original recommendation for Tuesday’s agenda including declaring the property surplus and selling the property for $5,000 to the homeowner, so the homeowner could then sell the house including the small piece of land owned by the district. The board only declared the property surplus. More information is expected to be brought to the board at a future meeting.
- The board approved hiring a contractor and approving pre-construction services to prepare for the upcoming merger between Johnson Middle School and Wakeland Elementary School. The schools are expected to open as a K-8 international baccalaureate school for the 2017-18 year. The district will renovate parts of Johnson and add a wing there to accommodate the students. The total project cost is expected to reach $4.4 million. On Tuesday, Holmes Hepner and Associates was hired as the architect and engineer for a cost not to exceed $363,280. Gilbane Building Company will perform pre-construction services under a $37,600 contract.
- The school board voted to deny a charter school application from Avant Garde Academy Manatee for the 2017-18 academic year. The charter was denied last year, as well.