News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 10, 2013

Vigo Schools restoring some employee work hours

But cuts for field trips, some team transport to remain

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Vigo County School Corp. support staff who faced possible loss of hours and wages because of the new health care law will see those hours and wages restored, at least through Jan. 1 of next year.

But recently announced changes limiting elementary field trips and eliminating bus transportation for middle school athletics will remain in place, Superintendent Dan Tanoos said Tuesday.

“Our main focus is taking care of our employees,” he said.

Last week, the Obama administration announced a one-year delay, until January 2015, in a requirement that employers with more than 50 full-time workers offer health benefits to full-time employees or pay a

penalty.

The school district had planned to cut work hours of support staff (bus drivers, instructional aides and cafeteria workers) to 30 or fewer hours per week; otherwise, the district would have had to provide those employees with health insurance under the Affordable Care Act or pay a penalty.

Now that the deadline has been pushed back for the ACA, the district will be able to restore hours and wages to support staff, “at least for the time being,” Tanoos said.

Employees affected include those who had two jobs that put them over 30 hours per week; they would have had to give up one of those jobs, meaning a financial loss. Now, with last week’s announced delay, they will be able to keep both jobs.

Also benefiting will be bus drivers who worked a regular route (about 25 hours) and also did field trips or athletic events that would have put them over the 30-hour per week limit. Their hours also can be restored, Tanoos said.

Those employees who would have worked less hours — but for the same overall pay — will have regular hours restored at the former rate of pay (overall pay would remain the same).

But there remains much uncertainty related to the Affordable Care Act.

In October, the school district could receive an update from legal counsel and federal officials, and that could mean the cutbacks in support staff hours and wages have to be restored, potentially as early as Jan. 1.

That’s because of a so-called “lookback” period, in which the government looks back at records of employee hours and determines penalties if there are full-time workers not offered affordable health care, said Donna Wilson, chief financial officer.

“The government has told legal counsel there should be more clarification coming in October,” Wilson said.

So the reprieve for employees could be short-lived.

“We’re ecstatic about the great news of the delay … keeping in mind, it’s just a delay and we have to be cautious” in how the school district proceeds, Tanoos said. “We have to be very smart about what we add, yet on the other, be fair to our employees.”

Restoring hours to employees also benefits students, Wilson said. “Our students are really the winners because they will have the additional hours of service,” she said.

Tanoos gave the example of instructional aides who work with special-needs students for eight hours a day, who would have been cut back to six hours per day.

Employing another aide for the remaining two hours would be disruptive to that student, he said.

In part because of the uncertainty related to Obamacare, recently announced limits in field trips — and elimination of bus transportation for middle school athletic — will remain in place, Tanoos said.

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.

“We believe the trips we have planned for next year [2013-14] educationally are a good plan,” Tanoos said.

Eliminating bus transportation for middle school athletics “is something we’ve discussed even before Obamacare,” Tanoos said.

Tanoos said the district does support efforts by federal legislators — Sen. Joe Donnelly and Congressman Larry Bucshon — to change the definition of “full-time” under Obamacare to 40 hours per week, rather than 30 hours.

The administration also hopes the Internal Revenue Service will allow again school districts to average employee hours over a calendar year, including summer break. The IRS made changes so that school districts can only factor in breaks that are two weeks or less — and not summer breaks.

By not allowing summer breaks to be included, that put Vigo and other districts over the 30-hour-per-week average.

In April, Tanoos spoke during an IRS hearing about the “catastrophic” impact of that change on the VCSC and other school districts in the country. The hearing was in Washington, D.C.



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