A temporary staffing agency - Kelly Services - will start providing substitute teachers to the Jefferson City School District starting next fall.
Prompted in part by changes stemming from the Affordable Care Act, the Jefferson City Board of Education approved a contract with Kelly Services on Monday. Last month Chief Financial Officer Jason Hoffman told the board last month he was concerned the employer mandate to provide health care insurance to all employees working more than 30 hours a week likely would impact the district.
Historically, the district has offered health care to employees who work more than 20 hours a week, but not to substitutes - a policy typical in Missouri schools.
Frank Wallemann, a frequent substitute teacher at the secondary level, asked board members to consider the implications of the change. He noted substitutes currently are employees of the Board of Education and identify with that employer. He wondered where the loyalties of Kelly employees might lie.
"I'm not opposed to all change ... I'm opposed to a fast, knee-jerk reaction," he said.
Wallemann was skeptical Kelly Services will be able to pay instructors the same compensation, open an office, staff it and offer training at a reasonable cost. "Is it really saving money in the long run?" he questioned.
Hoffman tried to address some of those concerns by telling the board that other districts - Columbia, Springfield and North Kansas City - have been pleased with Kelly's ability to hire well-trained, high-quality substitutes. This year the "fill rate" for substitutes in the district is 95 percent, down from 97 percent in previous years. The goal is to have enough substitutes available to cover all teachers' absentee requests.
He also noted a vacancy in his office will not be filled because of the anticipation that the central office will have less work to do.
He and Penny Rector, the district's attorney and human resources director, both said they expect Kelly to do a better job of preparing substitutes for the classroom, since Kelly offers organized training sessions. "We don't provide something like that," Rector noted. "It's been eight to ten years since we provided that training."
"We can't guarantee we'll be 100 percent satisfied, but there is a 30-day termination clause," Hoffman said.
Board member John Ruth saw a "great positive" in Kelly's willingness to extend health care coverage to the substitutes.
"We pride ourselves on providing a benefit's package to attract the best people," he said.
Also on Monday, the school board agreed to issue about $9 million in bonds as a way to save the district money. Although the actual process is slightly more complicated, the district is essentially refinancing bonds at lower interest rates to save money.
"We're going to be borrowing about $9 million for 10 years at a rate of 2.5 percent," said Dick Bartow, executive vice president with the investment banking firm, George K. Baum & Company. "It's incredible."
The action is expected to save the district $786,000 - on top of the $2.3 million the district saved last year by taking a similar action.
"In 13 months, we've saved the taxpayers $3 million in future interest costs," he said.
Also on Monday, the board:
• Heard a presentation from high school faculty leaders about their efforts to sustain professional learning communities among their colleagues. The discussion prompted kudos and words of support from the school board.
• Set a special open meeting for 7 a.m. on Jan. 27 to certify the April ballot.
• Approved a development agreement with the city for the Frog Hollow Road area.