BAR HARBOR — For the second year in a row, none of the schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) will see any increase in health insurance premiums for the coming fiscal year.
That’s very good news for the taxpayers who support the schools.
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, but hoped it wouldn’t be that much.
MDIRSS Superintendent Marc Gousse was notified April 3 that there would be no increase for 2019-2020. For all nine schools in the district plus the superintendent’s office, the difference between a 10 percent increase in premiums and no increase is $472,176.
MDI High School, which is funded largely by taxpayers in the four MDI towns, will see savings of $142,784. The school with the next biggest difference between budgeted amount and actual cost is Conners Emerson, $87,406; Mount Desert, $65,995; Pemetic, $50,714; Tremont, $47,202; Trenton, $33,153; Swan’s Island, $15,813; Cranberry Isles, $3,386; and Frenchboro, $2,374.
Now, each of the individual school committees must decide whether to pass along all of the savings to taxpayers or to keep some percentage to cover unanticipated costs.
Last year, Gousse and MDIRSS Business Manager Nancy Thurlow recommended that each of the schools keep about 30 percent in their budgets. That, Gousse explained, would enable schools “to navigate any potential insurance plan changes by staff.”
“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.”
On Gousse’s recommendation, the Trenton School Committee on Tuesday decided to keep in its budget the entire $33,153 in projected health insurance cost savings. Any of that amount that isn’t needed for health insurance in the coming year can be carried over to the following year’s budget (see related story, page 1).
The individual school budgets will be voted on at the annual town meetings this spring. The budgets can be amended on the floor of town meeting to reflect any reductions that the school committees recommend.
However, voters in two MDIRSS towns — Cranberry Isles and Swan’s Island — have already approved their school budgets for next year. So, whatever amount their schools budgeted for health insurance premiums that isn’t needed will be carried over to the following year.
Having no increase in insurance premiums for the second straight year is due, at least in part, to a change in the way rates are set.
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.