Havre Daily News
Local taxpayers won't be paying more for schools next year, but teachers' burdens are still growing.
Thanks to increased revenue, the budget the Havre Public Schools board approved Tuesday does not include a new contribution from taxpayers. Voters in May approved a nearly $100,000 tax increase that would have given the district access to another $330,000 in state dollars. Administrators said Tuesday that they don't need the additional local or state money.
HPS Superintendent Kirk Miller said today that because of increased tax revenue from oil and gas production within the school district's boundaries, and because of leftover money from last year, it has the money it needs to operate at the maximum budget the state allows.
Oil and natural gas production generated almost $1.2 million last year for the district, the first time the district took in more than $1 million, district director of operations Ric Floren told the board. In addition, expenditures last year came in below budget.
"While you are paying more at the pump, they are paying more in taxes," Floren said of the oil and gas companies' contribution to the district's budget.
For the first time in several years, the district is debt-free, he said. In May, the district made its final payment on the Highland Park Early Primary School addition.
Also, the taxable value of land in Hill County is up, which means the same number of mills will generate slightly more revenue for the district, Floren said.
The taxable value in the county rose slightly in the last two years after years of decline. This year the taxable value is $27.4 million, up from $26.7 million last year, Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said today.
"A couple of new buildings and some other pipeline issues would account for that," Kaercher said, adding that the increase is modest.
The budget the school board approved includes a 4 percent across the board increase for employees, which teachers have said they appreciate. In addition, the district is paying the total increase in health insurance costs for all employees, which amounts to about $400,000, Miller said today. The district is increasing its contribution for premiums by $50 an employee each month as well as giving employees $1,000 a year toward health insurance.
Even with the help, some teachers are feeling the pinch of extra expenses.
"The goal was so that ... employees would at least break even" compared with last year's health insurance costs, Miller said.
But health insurance benefits have decreased, with deductibles rising and coverage changing, Miller said. Havre's health insurance is provided through a pool, Montana Unified School Trust.
HPS teachers and staffers have a choice among five types of medical coverage and they can choose whether it covers their spouse, their entire family or just the employee.
A teacher who chooses to insure only herself and chooses the cheapest option makes a $326 monthly contribution, Miller said. That contribution pays for basic health coverage with a $2,000 deductible. The person also pays 30 percent of health care costs up to $4,000 for major medical expenses.
A teacher who chooses to insure her family with the best available coverage pays a $1,168 monthly contribution for comprehensive coverage, Miller said. That includes a $2,000 family deductible and up to a $6,000 contribution, at a 20 percent rate, toward health costs.
All plans include co-payments for doctor visits and prescriptions, Miller said.
Administrators do not pay monthly contributions for health insurance.
Havre High School history teacher Scott Filius has taken a second job to pay living expenses.
"I don't know I have (an extra) job specifically because of (health insurance costs), but I'm sure that's part of it," he said. Filius insures his wife and three children through the district plan.
"We're double dipping on the premium so we don't have it as bad as some," Filius said, explaining that his wife is a physical education teacher at Havre Middle School, so both their salaries go to pay one family premium cost.
In the spring and summer Filius helps farmers cut wheat and works construction.
Bill Huebsch coaches volleyball at Havre High School and teaches social studies and physical education at Havre Middle School.
He said he recently considered not carrying health insurance. Last year his family went from comprehensive to basic coverage, he said.
The pay rate for teachers in Montana is pretty low compared to teachers nationwide, Huebsch said.
Brett Hamilton, who teaches biology and anatomy and physiology at Havre High School, said he has four other jobs to help pay the bills. Aside from teaching, he coaches basketball, is a football official, installs seamless gutters and works as a crop adjuster.
Hamilton only covers himself with his insurance. His wife uses insurance from her job, he said.
Over the years, he's chosen a plan with a higher deductible to lower his monthly pay.
"For me, it's been basically any kind of medical expense I've had, I've had to pay out of my pocket," he said. "When you get a raise, you don't know how much a raise you're going to get because the health costs fluctuate."
Hamilton said he worries most about younger teachers with families who have to pay the full family premum.
Health insurance is one of the issues Miller said is being discussed by the Quality Schools Interim Committee, charged by the Legislature to suggest a new school funding formula. Miller is a nonvoting member of the nine- person committee. On Tuesday he gave the school board an update on the committee's progress.
"Many questions remain unanswered but general consensus is that the policy goals are valid and this topic is part of what needs to be considered in the picture of funding quality schools," Miller wrote.