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Youngstown school system’s problems continue

Published: Tue, December 18, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

In what universe is it acceptable in this day and age for one of the most troubled school districts in the state of Ohio to have one of the most expensive health insurance plans?

The answer: In the universe of the absurd.

If that appears overly harsh, consider what the Cadillac of plans has brought forth. Last week, the state mandated Academic Distress Commission voted to take control of the Youngstown City School District’s budget. That means all expenditures over $5,000 and all contracts will have to be approved by the panel.

Why? Because just 21 months after the system emerged from state-imposed fiscal emergency, there are storm clouds gathering.

According to Mark Paprocki, the commission’s fiscal monitor for the Youngstown district, the current financial forecast projects expenditures exceeding revenue by $432,000. A majority of the deficit comes from health-care costs.

The district’s self-insured plan has been underfunded since 2008, and it will take about $1.1 million to replenish the fund.

If there isn’t the money to pay the claims, which are expected to increase, the district would be forced to tap into the general fund.

“I think it’s time to get this right, moving forward,” Paprocki said, as the academic distress commission took control of the urban school system’s purse strings.

But it isn’t just the poor management of the health insurance plan that is cause for concern. The overall cost has Paprocki expressing disbelief.

How expensive is it? Compared to a Stark County schools health-care consortium, the Youngstown City School District spends $4 million more a year.

But the fiscal atrocity doesn’t stop there. In the view of the commission’s monitor for the district, employee benefits are also out of this world — compared with other plans.

“There’s a $225 per year maximum out of pocket expense” for employees of the Youngstown system, which Paprocki characterized as “peanuts.”

“Nobody has that,” he said.

Other plans require participants to pay between $1,000 and $1,500 a year.

“This plan is the richest plan I’ve ever looked at,” he said.

Think about it: One of the worst school districts in the state in terms of academic performance, and one of the poorest districts in the state in terms of the socioeconomic status of the student population, has one of the richest plans.

Indeed, officials of the Ohio Department of Education and the chairwoman of the academic distress commission, Adrienne O’Neill, have made it clear that the district must show very real academic progress next year to avoid a possible state takeover of the system.

The emergence from fiscal emergency in March 2011 was a watershed moment. It meant shedding the restrictions the state had placed on the district in 2006.

Arduous journey

It was a long, arduous journey that resulted in the elimination of red ink and a five-year forecast that showed balanced budgets each year.

Now, with the health insurance cloud hanging over the system’s budget, the future looks bleak.

The academic distress commission, which is charged with lifting Youngstown out of the cellar, has decided to explore the possibility of the district joining a consortium for health insurance.

As it does, we would also urge the panel to ask state auditors to investigate how the health insurance plan came to be, and how the employees have been able to get away with paying “peanuts” for a Cadillac of plans.


1sewingnut(33 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

How about a $5K out of pocket catastrophic, $350 deductable, 15% co-insurance and $30 office visits. For these fine benefits we pay $433/month excluding dental & vision. It's time for Youngstown schools and other schools to get their heads out of the sand.

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2bsafeandproud(46 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

Youngstown with its life-sucking 2.75% city tax is a start and hopefully the public outcry over these Cadillac plans will lead to a re-emergence of some form of the SB5 bill. With America on the verge of the fiscal cliff, ALL levels of govt. health care plans need revamped and be brought in line to the private sector standards.

8% unemployment and trillion $$ deficits are the new normal for at least the next 4 years, and public unions cannot by way of contracts be immune to the hardships that We The Taxpayers will endure.

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3Education_Voter(1137 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

You don't have to research to find out how this plan came to be...it's simple. The Youngstown City School employees take home much smaller salaries than employees in Stark County, Lake County, Portage County, Mahoning County, shall I go on?
The employees traded health care for raises in repeated contracts.

As the article says, the health care fund is separate from the general fund and has not touched the general fund.
One wonders about the costs of "consultants" in this little district. Quaglia at more than half a million. A dismissed administrator from Cleveland serving as a consultant. Consultants from a firm called "Ed Focus" with ties to Academic Commission members. And the Academic Commission itself.

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4Education_Voter(1137 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

By the way, a trade of health care benefits for salary raises was one the management was quick to take. Lower salaries equaled less percentage to the employer contribution to the pension plan, which was based on a percentage of salary. (Of course, the eventual cost to the employees was a reduced monthly pension benefit in old age.)

There were always employees who were young, single and healthy, and thus did not touch the healthcare fund for years. Some never needed it. In contrast, a salary raise would be a benefit for every employee, and because their pensions are based on an average of the employees highest earning years, this choice affects employees for life. But the employees responded to the district's complaints that they could not possibly raise salaries to compete with other districts. And this type of editorial is their reward.

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5janpentz(40 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

Bravo Education_Voter....About the only thing you left out was the tone of this editorial. By example......St. Elizabeth's has two hospitals. One in Boardman and one in Youngstown. The one in Youngstown has a higher mortality rate, often used as a measure of effectiveness when rating hospitals. Do you think that the nurses and doctors at the Youngstown campus deserve less in compensation than the Boardman employees?

This paper has got to stop attacking the hard-working employees of one of the hardest districts to work in. Keep up these unfair and unwarranted attacks , no one will teach in inner city schools.

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6TB(1167 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

My thoughts as well...apparently loads of high quality candidates can be attracted in the manner the vindy proposes.
Maybe the true problem is the insanity of the costs in our health care system.

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7uselesseater(229 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

Oh let's look at what the real problem is, beyond the greed of the insurers, the ineptness of the District and the games by the teachers and Union.

The problem more than likely is, the much older teachers lingering in Youngstown schools.

What is the average and median teacher age in Ytown schools compared to Stark and compared to surrounding major Districts?

Older insure teachers = much higher premiums.

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8janpentz(40 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

If the YCS healthcare plan has been underfunded since 2008......Why did the Fiscal Commission (overseeing YCS finances) leave in April 2010? The Fiscal Commission "projected" five years of solvency. Now this Academic Distress Commission projects a half million shortfall by January 2013? Who's figures are right? Was the Fiscal Commission incompetent? Is the Academic Distress Commission over-reaching? Don't they.....or anybody... legally have to wait until a deficit actually exists to take action? Is it within their capacity to "take over" a districts finances? I thought they had the power to make financial decisions concerning academic issues (hiring consultants, appropriating monies for intervention strategies, etc.) This needs a judge/court to sort out.

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9janpentz(40 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

Hey sewingnut ........you shoulda voted for a union!!!

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10Education_Voter(1137 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

Sewing nut,
Didn't they offer you a plan with a higher deductible? There's your problem. My plan has a $3,000 per person deductible, which brought down the monthly payments. At $433. a month you will pay $3,000 in eight months, even if you don't go to the hospital. So I take the chance that I won't get sick...not to the tune of $433. anyway. And I end up with money in my pocket.

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11Education_Voter(1137 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

Actually, my above (at 11) exactly illustrates what happened with the teachers in Youngstown. They could have had their compensation as cash in another district, but they were satisfied to take it as a promise of affordable care if they ever got sick.

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12charms(228 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

I think that the benefits are NOT a problem here. Youngstown teachers negotiated those benefits and the school board approved them.

The fairest way to address these financial issues under the current system is at the ballot box.

Board members and school levies are voted on all the time - and if you don't like what's going on - let your voting reflect that.

Be glad you don't live in PA., where they just levy whatever taxes they want for schools - with no voting input.

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