Facing criticism from teachers, staff and union officials, the Barbour County Board of Education voted this week to rescind an earlier decision that would have taken away employees' optical and dental insurance benefits in the 2013-2014 school year budget.
County teachers and service personnel, along with representatives from the American Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia Education Association, attended Monday's Barbour County BOE meeting to voice their concerns.
Frank Caputo, an AFT West Virginia staff representative, told the board they needed to reinstate the dental and vision benefits.
"The intent of Senate Bill 541 was for rural counties to be able to provide benefits and salary increases to keep highly trained, certified education personnel in rural counties," Caputo said. "This was not mandated by this bill, but it was the intention. It is highly important that we restore these benefits. They are well-deserved."
Brian Moats, a representative from the WVEA, said he surveyed 170 individuals in the Barbour County school system.
"I found out 100 percent of those members used the dental insurance," Moats said. "Only 3 people said they had not used the optical insurance."
Moats said comments from the survey found that employees said the dental insurance saved them between $50 to $3,000 a year, while optical insurance savings ranged from $100 to $800 per year.
Another issue Moats discussed was the notification of employees about the loss of insurance.
"In Preston County, employees received certified letters that their benefits were in danger," Moats said. "I do not believe our employees were notified in a timely manner. Also, you mentioned that the cuts were because the proposed levy failed; however, the insurance costs were not part of the proposed levy."
After an executive session that lasted nearly 90 minutes, members of the board discussed the benefits. Board member Dana Stemple made a motion to rescind the previous action to remove the optical and dental benefits for the 2013 to 2014 year. The board voted 4 to 1 to approve the motion. Stemple, Bob Wilkins, Joanne McConnell and Eric Ruf voted to approve, with only Doward Matlick voting against the motion.
On April 8, the board voted unanimously to not pay for employees' optical and dental insurance benefits in the 2013-2014 school year budget. At that meeting, Chief Financial Officer/Treasurer Annette Hughart explained the benefits were not included in either budget proposal she submitted to the board for possible consideration.
Hughart said the county paid approximately $225,000 for dental and vision benefits for the 2012-2013 school year.
Following Monday's meeting, Caputo said the employees were elated and thankful for the board's action.
"In the long run, this will pay off," Caputo said. "We are so happy the employees will have their benefits. Dental and optical insurance is helpful to families, and sometimes helps keep teachers and education personnel in their jobs. Employees decide to stay in rural areas, and it makes a huge difference."