In response to a Right to Know request filed by former Hooksett School Board Member John Lyscars, the Manchester School District has released the names of those board members who take taxpayer provided health and or dental insurance benefits and identified the associated premium costs to the district. Lyscars said he filed the request because, as a Hooksett taxpayer, he was unhappy that tuition his town paid the to educate its children in the Queen City’s schools was going to board member benefits, rather than to classroom needs.
Lyscars’ original request produced a document that identified the plans taken and the premium costs to the district. However, it did not identify which board members were taking the benefits. That prompted at-Large Board of School Committee Member Rich Girard to further inquire about the information. In doing so, he provided proof that the district had released the names of board members who took the benefits in past years. He also provided a similar document from the city of Manchester Department of Human Resources that detailed not only which member of the Board of Aldermen took the benefits, but what benefit plan they took.
Following Girard’s insistence that the names be released, the district provided the information in the same format as in prior releases. So, while the district still isn’t complying with the state’s Right to Know law by directly associating each board member with what taxpayer provided benefit plan they’ve taken, the district has at least disclosed which board members are taking the plan.
Board members taking both the district’s health and dental plans include:
- Sarah Ambrogi of Ward 1
- Leslie Want of Ward 4
- Daniel Bergeron of Ward 6
- Erika Connors of Ward 8
- John Avard of Ward 10
Board members taking the district’s dental plan include:
- Mary Georges of Ward 3
- Kathryn Desrochers of Ward 11
- Connie Van Houten of Ward 12
Both Desrochers and Van Houten took the health benefits in the last term, deciding to give them up after they were discovered taking them. Former at-Large Committeewoman Kathy Staub, who is running against Ward 5 incumbent Lisa Freeman, took the health and dental benefits in the last term, before being defeated by Girard.
At the July meeting of the Board of School Committee, Girard moved, for at least the second time in the term, to eliminate taxpayer provided health and dental benefits for board members. The vote failed on a vote of 5 to 10. At-Large Committeewoman Nancy Tessier and Ward 7 Committeeman Ross Terrio joined the eight members of the board taking the benefits in opposition to Girard’s motion. Only Mayor Ted Gatsas, Ward 2 Committeewoman Debra Langton, Freeman and Board Vice-Chair Arthur Beaudry of Ward 9 supported Girard’s motion.
Girard said he made the motion because he didn’t believe the board should continue with the lavish perk while cutting line items for teachers, supplies, maintaining, cleaning and repairing the buildings and grounds, among other items. Said Girard:
“It strikes me as hypocritical. It’s as if they believe they’re more important than the kids or their parents and the taxpayers. It kinda looks like Manchester has its own Gang of 8.”
Based on the premium cost of the policies, taxpayers are forking over more than $108,000. Girard said that’s enough money to hire two teachers at the average starting salary the district uses for budgeting purposes, with benefits. Stated Girard:
“That would help us at a couple of elementary schools where another teacher is needed to further lower class sizes.”
Actual cost of the benefits, which would be determined by claims filed by board members or covered family members, cannot be released under federal privacy laws. The district is self insured and hires a third party administrator to dispense benefits in accordance with the district’s plan designs. As a result, every claim filed by a board member, or any employ covered by the benefits, is paid for entirely by the taxpayer up to $250,000 once the plan deductible has been satisfied. Above $250,000, the district has “stop-loss coverage” and is reimbursed by re-insurance carriers.
Girard also said that, under the law, board members are considered part time employees and that it wasn’t fair that they provided themselves with benefits while depriving part-time employees, like cafeteria workers, the same benefit offerings.