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May 25, 2013

Field trips to take big hit next year

Vigo schools to inform staff of ‘deep cuts,’ superintendent says

TERRE HAUTE — The Vigo County School Corp. plans to inform school staff of “deep cuts” in student field trips for the next school year, Superintendent Dan Tanoos said Friday.

Also, Tanoos has begun informing employee groups how the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will impact their work hours. Non-certified staff — including bus drivers, food service workers and instructional assistants — will be limited to 30 hours or less per week on average.

In announcing field trip reductions, Tanoos cites the need to reduce transportation costs along with the Affordable Care Act as the cause.

For elementary schools, each grade level will be limited to one field trip per school year, and those field trips will be corporation-sponsored.

The only exception will be for fifth grade, which also will be allowed a year-end trip, but it must be academic in nature.

Middle schools will be limited to one or no field trips, he said. Any out-of-county field trips may have to find alternative transportation other than VCSC buses, Tanoos said.

Those limits do not include academic competition, he said. “We’ll have to figure out how to transport them” and stay within the 30-hour per week limit for bus drivers, he said.

The cuts also affect middle school athletics. There will be “a lot less travel for middle school athletic events,” he said.

Further details about the cuts will be announced to school staff on Tuesday, Tanoos said.

He noted that the school district used to cover all extracurricular transportation costs, but now, middle and high schools are being asked to help pay those costs.

He noted that the state no longer assists in funding school transportation, which is funded through property taxes subject to tax caps.

In a related matter, Tanoos began visiting schools this week to inform non-certified employee, including instructional assistants, bus drivers and cafeteria workers — about how they will be affected by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The district will have to limit their work hours to 30 hours per week or less, on average, because of the new federal law. Otherwise, the district would have to provide those employees with health insurance under ACA.

“That would cost us $6 million to $8 million more per year. We don’t have $6 million to $8 million more to pay,” Tanoos said.

Also, if the district were to pay the fine for not providing the insurance, it would cost $3 million to $4 million more per year. “We don’t have that to pay,” he said.

School systems around the state, and country, are facing the same dilemma, he said.

By limiting work hours, the district is not required to provide the employees with insurance, and the employees can get insurance through a government-provided exchange, he said.

While the employees’ work hours may be cut, “Very few will be affected financially,” Tanoos said. “We’re going to cut their hours, but not their wages … We have to treat our employees fairly.”

The changes in work hours will take effect June 1.

He noted that if employees worked two part-time VCSC jobs, such as instructional assistant and coach, they will no longer be able to do both to stay within the work hour limits. The law’s impact “is terrible,” said the superintendent.

Initially under the federal health care law, employees’ work hours could be averaged over a calendar year, including summer break. Because of summer break, that put VCSC under the 30-hour per week average.

But the Internal Revenue Service re-wrote that part of the health care rules. Now, school districts can only factor in breaks that are two weeks or less, and not summer break, Tanoos said.

That puts Vigo County and other districts over the 30-hour-per week average.

Technically, the affected employees must average less than 30 hours per week, and that is accomplished by factoring in Christmas, spring, Thanksgiving and other breaks, he said.

Tanoos, along with representatives of many other groups that will be affected, spoke at an IRS hearing April 23 about the “catastrophic” impact of that change on VCSC and other school districts throughout the country. The hearing was in Washington, D.C.

He stated that if the district tried to provide coverage to all employees through ACA, “It will result in the permanent layoff of teachers and other staff members.”

He also expressed concerns that reducing hours of instructional assistants could hurt quality of education, particularly for special-needs students.

Reduction of hours for bus drivers “will result in the elimination of field trips and some extracurricular activities,” he stated.

Tanoos cited the Terre Haute Children’s Museum in his statement. As a result of the reduction in field trips, “Fewer children will take field trips to this museum as well as other outside educational venues. This reduction in field trips will reduce revenue for the Terre Haute Children’s Museum and undermine the fundamental reason why it was created,” he said in his statement to the IRS.

He asked the IRS to reconsider the rule that does not allow educational institutions to factor in summer break when determining average weekly work hours for employees. For now, though, Vigo schools will have to operate under the existing parameters.

 Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

 

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