BAR HARBOR — None of the schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) will see any increase in health insurance premiums for next year.
Budgeting for insurance coverage is always a guessing game because all of the schools must have their budgets finalized, or nearly so, before Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield notifies schools of how much costs will go up.
As has been customary in recent years, all of the system’s schools budgeted for a 10 percent increase, hoping that it wouldn’t be more than that.
MDIRSS Superintendent Marc Gousse learned early last month that the insurance rate hikes for schools across the state would not exceed 9 percent. Then he was notified about two weeks ago that there would be no increase at all for the system’s schools.
Gousse and MDIRSS Business Manager Nancy Thurlow have recommended that each of the schools reduce by about 70 percent the amount they had budgeted for health care cost increases and to keep the rest of the previously anticipated increases in their budgets.
Gousse explained the rationale for that recommendation at last week’s meeting of the Mount Desert School Committee.
“We need to leave some room to navigate any potential plan changes by staff,” he said. “For example, somebody might move from a single plan to a family plan. We also have folks who are retiring, and we have new hires, and that can change [the overall cost], too.”
The schools’ total cost for insurance also could be affected by the result of current contract negotiations between school board and teachers union representatives. Currently, the MDIRSS schools pay 82 percent of the cost of insurance for employees and their dependents; employees pay 18 percent.
This coming year, for the first time, all nine MDIRSS schools will be able to pay the same group rate for employees’ health insurance.
Previously, insurance premiums for the larger schools in the district — those with 50 or more employees and eligible retirees — were based on each school’s insurance claims experience. Smaller schools all paid the same “community” rate.
A bill passed by the Legislature in 2016 allows all of the MDIRSS schools to be grouped together for the purpose of setting insurance rates. Gousse said that if the smaller schools in the district were still being charged the “community” rate, their premiums for next year would go up 4.5 percent.
Based on Gousse’s recommendation to cut about 70 percent of the originally anticipated increase in health insurance costs, MDI High School’s budget for health insurance next year was reduced by $100,000 at the school’s annual budget meeting April 4. Those savings will be realized by taxpayers in the four MDI towns.
In addition, taxpayers in Bar Harbor will benefit from a reduction of $75,000 in the health insurance budget for Conners Emerson School. That change was approved by the School Committee April 2 and the Town Council April 3, so the school budget will be voted on at the June 5 town meeting will include the new number.
The Mount Desert School Committee voted April 4 to amend their budget on the floor of town meeting May 8 to reflect a saving of $50,000. The Southwest Harbor School Committee voted April 6 to recommend to voters at the May 7 town meeting that their budget be reduced by $35,000. The Tremont School Committee is to vote today, Thursday, on whether to reduce by $30,000 the budget they take to the May 8 town meeting.
The Trenton School Committee voted April 10 to cut by $25,000 the budget they present at the May 15 town meeting.
The Frenchboro School budget is still being developed.
Two MDIRSS towns — Cranberry Isles and Swans Island — already have approved their budgets for next year. So, the amount their schools budgeted for health insurance premiums that isn’t needed will be carried over to the following year’s budget.