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Rise in school employee insurance costs easing

The cost of providing health insurance for Board of Education employees in the next fiscal year isn't expected to be as problematic for Superintendent of Schools David G. Title as last December when he compiled his recommended 2013-14 budget for the school district.

"Based on current information, health insurance is not nearly the driver of the budget it was last year. We were looking at millions last year," Title said to the Board of Education Tuesday night. "At budget time, it was awful."

In January, Title had said in a memo to the school board that health insurance and pension costs accounted for 83 percent of the $7.2 million increase in his recommended $156.2 million budget for 2013-14. Title back then identified the increase in health insurance at $5.4 million and the increase in pension costs at $521,167.

Title told the Board of Education on Tuesday night that the large increase in health insurance costs projected a year ago was caused by a large number of large claims, but Title and Carlton Lindgren from AonHewitt, the board's insurance consultant, said the projected number shrank in the ensuing months when boards reviewed the proposed budget.

"The numbers got better because the claims in excess during that 12-month period were in the beginning of that 12-month period. It wasn't repeating itself on the front end and was dropping out on the back end," Lindgren said.

The Board of Education's budget for this fiscal year was approved by town boards last spring at $148.9 million -- less than what Title and the school board had requested.

On Tuesday night, Lindgren spoke at length about projected costs of the board's health insurance program for the next fiscal year and a spreadsheet from AonHewitt identified a total projected cost in 2014-15 of $27.7 million, which was $1.1 million, or 4.2 percent, higher than AonHewitt's projection of $26.5 million for 2013-14.

But Lindgren said the $27.7 million figure is a gross figure and does not include offsets by employee contributions, which Title said amount to 20 percent of premiums for teachers, represented by the largest union of seven unions in the school district. Title said the premium cost shares for teachers and administrators are "some of the highest cost shares of premiums around the state" not including the private sector.

On school personnel pensions, Title said the projected increase is $300,000, or 14 percent -- from $2.1 million to $2.4 million, according to a memo from Doreen Munsell, the school district's director of finance and business services.

Title also told the school board Tuesday he is proposing three non-recurring capital projects in 2014-15. The estimated total cost would be $978,766 and include a partial replacement of Mill Hill School's roof at $461,614; replacing two 1964 boilers at North Stratfield School at $364,652, and replacing one 1971 boiler at Fairfield Warde High School at $152,500.

Andrew Brophy