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West Fargo Public Schools hopes to spend less on health care, more on salaries

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WEST FARGO — After seeing a dramatic increase in premium costs year after year, West Fargo Public Schools plans to change its health insurance plans in order to spend less money on the benefit and invest more into staff salaries.

Business Manager Levi Bachmeier said Monday, Sept. 26, that a health insurance committee has been studying the potential changes for about two years. The committee considered a number of methods to reduce the costs including changing the district's overall carrier, which is Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The district spends about $20 million per year on health care for staff.

"We're comparatively spending more on health insurance and spending less on salaries," Bachmeier said.

He estimated the planned changes could save the district about $1.8 million.

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"There is a very calculable savings for employees and the district," Bachmeier said. "You have to remember that when the district saves money, it spends more money on people."

Board Member Jim Jonas, a former teacher and coach in the district said just a few years ago, he remembers the cost of health care had a 16% increase, a high jump for the district and staff to absorb.

On Monday, the board authorized a move to adjust the plans to a higher deductible strategy and plans for establishing a "near-site" clinic for all staff. The clinic would be modeled after a similar site used in Jamestown and would be available to provide low-cost doctor appointments for all West Fargo staff with a copay fee of $0 to $25.

"We believe we can provide greater access to having a clinic dedicated exclusively to West Fargo School District employees," Bachmeier said.

The district will head into negotiations for teacher contracts later this school year, at which time the district will have concrete options. In the meantime, the district will continue to partner with Blue Cross Blue Shield for one more year.

While the change to health care will benefit the majority of staff in the short term, some staff will be adversely impacted in the short term, but everyone will benefit in the long term with higher salaries, Bachmeier said.

On Monday, a special education teacher asked the board to reconsider approving the changes, as she is likely to have to pay more than $2,300 to cover the out-of-pocket costs along that come with health care.

"How people consume health care, what their health needs are, is so diverse," Bachmeier said. "The goal here is to do the most good we can for as many as our team members possible."

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READ MORE FROM WEST FARGO EDITOR WENDY REUER

Readers can reach West Fargo editor Wendy Reuer at wreuer@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5530 . Follow her on Twitter @ForumWendy .

As the West Fargo editor, Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum and oversees the production of the weekly Pioneer.
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