McCook Public Schools Superintendent Grant Norgaard said this morning that a change in insurance benefits for the school district's 58 paraprofessionals is a cost-offset effort in response to ever-increasing insurance costs and reductions in state aid.
Norgaard said that, starting Sept. 1, paras will see a change in their insurance package from family coverage to a single catastrophic package, or a cash-in-lieu offer of $2,500 to use toward the purchase of health insurance.
Norgaard said the new package is not as comprehensive as it has been in the past, but it is more economical for the district and more commensurate with the insurance benefits offered to paras by similar school districts. He said that many districts do not provide any insurance benefits at all for paras.
"It's extremely expensive to offer insurance at any level," Norgaard said, "let alone for employees who work 35 hours a week for nine months."
Norgaard said that while teachers also have a nine-month schedule, they have degrees and are certificated, they work more than 35 hours a week and also work on projects throughout the summer.
About 30 of McCook's paraprofessionals didn't have any insurance coverage at all, Norgaard said, and will now receive an insurance package they did not have before. Paras who do not work full-time do not now receive an insurance package, nor will they after Sept. 1.
"This change was never a desire to hurt anyone," Norgaard said. "Having no insurance benefits would be commonplace. We didn't want to do that."
Norgaard said that in the past several years, the school board has seen 7 to 17 percent increases in insurance costs annually. "We started with full family coverage many years ago when it was affordable," he said. "That's not a burden we can take on any longer."
A full-family insurance package can cost up to $17,000 annually.