East Haven BOE Receives $2.3M in Bonding
The Board of Education (BOE) received $2.3 million for immediate student safety and health improvements at a special meeting of the town council on Oct. 29. In total, $6.95 million in bonding authorizations were approved for town upgrades at the meeting.
One million dollars of the money allocated for the BOE will go toward replacing the turf football field and resurfacing the track at the East Haven High School.
Other enhancements are for fire alarm panels, security systems, lavatory renovations, and the sealing and repair of the high school building’s façade, among others.
“After this season, there was going to be no more football,” said Michele DeLucia, Chairwoman of the BOE.
Issues with the turf field became apparent at its biennial cleaning and decompaction, according to Anthony Verderame, director of athletics, at an Oct. 8 meeting of the Board of Finance.
“The problem is now the artificial grass is so short and worn, fill can’t be added to it to make it softer. The seams are getting loose. If you look at the field from an aerial view there is more black than green,” said Verderame at the meeting.
Work on the football field could commence this month while repairs to the track could take longer, making it necessary for the track coach and athletes to train in a different location, according to Verderame.
A more recent update on the projects’ timeline of completion could not be furnished by Verderame, as he writes in a Nov. 13 email, “none of this will be known until the project is bid out and we meet with the winning bidder.”
The $2.3 million was a revised capital request from the BOE after “the BOE became aware that the town was only recommending $150,000 for 2019-2020 capital improvements,” said Erica Forti, Superintendent of Schools. The BOE’s original 5-year proposal was for $4.6 million.
As of July 1, the BOE and its employees now operate under their own health care plan, as part of the Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES) Health Benefits Collaborative.
The withdrawal from the town’s self-insured plan came after the town’s rejection of a $1.7 million increase to the BOE’s 2019-2020 operational budget.
“If we didn’t move to [the] consortium, we would not meet our operating budget needs for this fiscal year,” said Michele DeLucia, BOE chair.
The amount needed to cover BOE health care costs “was cut from the BOE’s 2019-2020 operational budget when the board received the town’s allocation with an increase of only $50,000 from the 2018-2019 allocation,” said Erica Forti, Superintendent of Schools.
By participating in the collaborative, the BOE saves “about 400k based on the Anthem health insurance renewal rate and approximately $850K in expenses the town was charging in ‘retention fees’ or funds to contribute to the health insurance reserve account,” said Forti.
The town recently transferred $4.95 million to the BOE’s reserve account under the ACES collaborative. It acts as a “safety net in the event of a catastrophic event and the group’s medical expenses exceed what was budgeted for,” said Forti.
“The Board of Education, especially over the last two to three years, had very good claim years, where the cost was significantly less than what was budgeted,” said Joseph Zullo, town attorney. “This correction was just a means of crediting the board the over-payments that had been made.”
Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield administers the ACES Health Benefits Collaborative, which did not require a change for the BOE since Anthem also administers the town’s plan.
The BOE did have a change in benefits plans however, moving to Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) and Health Savings Account (HSA) plans.
It also helped them gain “administrative and claims assistance, as well as the capacity to work directly with the third-party administrator, Brown & Brown,” said Lynn Boisvert, finance manager, East Haven Public Schools.
The school district has approximately 288 active employees and 174 retirees in its group medical insurance, according to Boisvert.
East Haven’s BOE employees and retirees join the Ansonia Board of Education, North Haven Board of Education and the town of North Haven, in addition to ACES’ employees, in participating in the health benefits collaborative.
Zullo notes that if the town of East Haven joined the consortium along with the BOE this budget cycle it would have resulted in an increase of costs to the town and the loss of certain benefits to its 265 employees.
“We sat with our insurance management team and we decided as a group that it was not a good move for the taxpayers,” said Zullo. “I’ll note that, we all agreed that in future years, it might be worthwhile to look at it again.”
That conversation would be welcome at ACES.
“There is no cap on the number of entities that can join,” said Deborah Carson, administrator of ACES Health Insurance Collaborative. “ACES is always looking to expand, and any further expansion would just benefit all of the existing groups even more.”
The agreement that governs the collaborative requires that groups sign on for at least three years, according to Carson.
Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) partnership
At its Oct.22 meeting, the BOE approved a partnership agreement with SCSU for East Haven High School students to participate in the University’s Early College Experience program.
“I brought it to the board,” said Michele DeLucia, BOE chair. “There really is no downside for anyone.”
The program “waive[s] part-time tuition and most fees for high school students taking courses on a space-available basis on our campus or taking one of our college classes taught at their high school,” said Ilene Crawford, associate vice president for academic affairs, SCSU.
Eligible junior and senior high school students can earn up to nine transferable college credits.
Giving students this opportunity can help them “save a significant amount of money” on their college education costs, said DeLucia.
SCSU has signed similar agreements with 12 districts and two individual schools, according to Crawford.
“From Southern’s perspective, providing an Early College experience with partner high schools…increases the number of college-ready students in the state of Connecticut, many of whom we hope choose SCSU for their undergraduate experience,” said Crawford.