The East Lansing Board of Education Monday night approved keeping the current formula for funding the health insurance plans of the District’s employees.
Teachers in the audience expressed their appreciation, and relief, following news that the District had made a tentative agreement with the East Lansing Education Association union. The union members still need to approve the agreement.
“Thank you for the effort, the time and the energy you take to listen to your parents, staff, and students. I appreciate the decision that will be made reducing my anxiety about insurance. This has been an overwhelming last several months and I appreciate all the work you’ve done. It makes a difference. I appreciate it,” said teacher Heather Mueller.
At the previous Board meeting June 13, eight teachers spoke against changing the funding formula, with dozens of other educators showing up in support. At that meeting, the Board approved their budget for the next academic year. However, they did not vote on the funding issue that night.
Tim Akers, high school English teacher and ELEA president, explained that the Michigan state legislature, through Public Act 152 of 2011, has given school districts the power to fund employee health care by the 80/20 structure where the district contributes 80 percent of the total cost of health care with employees covering the remaining 20 percent. The alternative would be for a “hard cap” structure where the legislature sets a specific dollar amount that districts can spend on the health care costs regardless of actual costs.
“Over the past few years, the legislature has only been increasing that amount by about 2.5% annually, while premiums have regularly increased in the double digits. As a result, the institution of the hard cap in East Lansing would necessitate either a much larger contribution on the part of the employees, or require that employees change plans/providers to something much less expensive,” Mr. Akers said.
According to District Finance Director Richard Pugh, the District will be assuming a 19.5 percent increase in cost of health premiums by maintaining the 80/20 structure.
In other action, the Board unanimously approved a motion to create the first all gender bathroom at East Lansing High School. Students for Gender Equality had suggested converting the current women’s restroom off the locker commons at the high school into a bathroom that would be available for all students regardless of gender.
Mr. Pugh had said they need to check with the building code to make sure the conversion would not put the school out of compliance. The conversion of the bathroom, which has three stalls and two sinks, would not require any construction, simply a change of signage. The District had looked at both the current men’s and women’s restrooms in the high school and determined this bathroom could be most easily converted. The Board has requested that the bathroom be converted before school resumes in the fall.
Student Taylor Murray encouraged the Board to make the high school environment nurturing to all students of all genders. “Please be on the right side of history,” Taylor said.
Pinecrest Elementary School is currently the only school building with a gender neutral bathroom. Board members urged the District to be “pro-active” in considering adding gender inclusive bathrooms in the middle school as well as the remaining elementary buildings.
The Board also discussed potential overcrowding situations in relation to the incoming kindergarten classes at Glencairn Elementary School. Preliminary data had been given to the Board that showed the two classes already had 24 and 25 students enrolled. But Superintendent Robyne Thompson said those numbers were incorrect and that both classrooms were currently at the cap of 22 students per class.
Board members expressed concern that the classes were already at capacity without counting any families that may move into the Glencairn catchment district over the summer, or any students who may move into the new MSU housing project on the site of the former state police building.
“What is the plan to accommodate any additional kindergarteners so that we would have reasonable class sizes,” asked Trustee Yasmina Bouraoui. “In that particular school, classrooms are limited and are already in deficit.”
Thompson said the administration was discussing possible solutions and monitoring the incoming student numbers.
“This isn’t a new issue,” Thompson said. “We are going to have to look at it globally.”
Possible solutions may include adding portable classrooms or moving students to other elementary schools. Trustee Kath Edsall expressed opposition to the use of portable classrooms and asked the administration to find out what needs to be done to reopen Red Cedar in some capacity. Currently, the Board’s Early Childhood Committee is researching using the closed school for preschool or other early education purposes.
The Board also:
- Asked the administration to explore ways to push back the start times for high school and middle school students this fall. The District recently had to reduce the total time taught per day to match state rules, and announced last week that all schools would dismiss at earlier times. The Board asked them to look into the bussing situation to find a way to remove the extra time from the beginning of the day instead of the end of it.
- Heard a preliminary report from the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) Programming Committee, which asked for another year to study how to integrate STEAM programming into the new math and science standards. Several pilot STEAM programs will be implemented in the fall, primarily through student clubs, said committee member Lauren Schefke.
- Approved the Math Expressions math curriculum for K-5 grades for the next six years.