Prompted by changes stemming from the Affordable Care Act, the Jefferson City Board of Education on Monday night contemplated hiring an outside contractor -Kelly Services, a temporary staffing agency - to provide substitute teachers for the district.
"For the most part, we will be unscathed," Chief Financial Office Jason Hoffman told the board. "But one area we're concerned about is the employer mandate to provide health care insurance to all employees working more than 30 hours a week."
Hoffman noted, historically, the district has offered health care to employees who work more than 20 hours a week, but not to substitutes. "I don't know a single district that does that," Hoffman added.
Based on recent data, he estimated 25 individuals would qualify for insurance, meaning the district may have to extend a $6,000 benefit to each of those individuals at a cost of about $150,000. Hoffman said he's concerned from a fiscal perspective because it's likely more substitutes will want to work more hours once they realize health insurance is available.
He noted the district has four options: either include the substitute teachers in the district's health care program; refuse to comply with the federal law; restrict people to only 28 hours of work weekly; or hire Kelly Services.
He noted failing to comply with the law isn't realistic because the district would incur millions in penalties. And he added the district needs to be able to hire longer-term substitutes to cover extended sick leaves and teacher pregnancies.
On any given day, about 70 people - roughly 10-11 percent of the district's faculty - are replacing teachers who need time away from their classrooms.
In the past the district's "fill rate" - the number of vacancies the district tries to fill - has hovered between 96 to 98 percent. This year it's down to 94 percent, said Penny Rector, the district's in-house lawyer and human resources director. She added the number of available substitute teachers has dipped because they are being asked to undergo a six-hour online training course and the state has instituted a $50 fee in order to substitute teach in the public schools.
"We need to reach a 100 percent fill-rate," Rector told the board.
Kelly Services, Inc., is a global employment agency and recruitment company headquartered in Troy, Michigan. The company hires more than 530,000 people annually in dozens of fields, including education. The closest local office is in Columbia, but Hoffman said, if the Jefferson City school district awards the company a contract, Kelly managers will open an office in the Capital City.
When compared with the expense of including substitute teachers in the district's health care plan, Hoffman said hiring Kelly Services would likely either "be a wash or cost a little less." The Jefferson City Public Schools is a self-insured district.
He noted other districts - Springfield, Columbia, Hallsville and North Kansas City - have turned to Kelly to find trained and dependable substitute teachers.
He said that the district's substitutes will not notice a change in their pay because Kelly will pay the same rate and charge the district a fee above that rate. The company will also provide the temporary workers health insurance, he noted.
"They say, "If you substitute teach one day, you qualify for health insurance.' They do that because they want to draw in high-quality candidates," Hoffman said.
Both Rector and Hoffman said they see the change as an opportunity to improve the ranks of substitute teachers.
Board member John Ruth asked staff if they felt Kelly's price might rise over time. "If we had a year-to-year contract with the option to renew that would alleviate my concern," Ruth said.
"We need substitutes who can come in and not miss a beat," Rector said.
The board is expected to vote on the idea at their January board meeting.
In other business, the board:
• Accepted the district's 2012-13 audit, performed by Gerding, Korte & Chitwood CPAs.
• Approved a new school calendar for the 2014-15 school year.
• Approved a contract with The Architect's Alliance Inc. for West Elementary School renovations next summer.
• Listened to a report by Assistant Superintendent Dawn Berhorst on the central office's proposals for addressing needs identified in the state's latest school improvement program.
• Will hold a special board meeting on Jan. 27 to certify the ballot for the April 8, 2014 election. The first day for candidate filing starts on Dec. 17 and ends on Jan. 21.