MANCHESTER, N.H. – It’s been discussed in the past and it will be discussed again, but only after it was discussed some more on Monday night.
A proposed modification for healthcare coverage for Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) members was sent back to committee after several BOSC members voiced confusion over details surrounding that proposal.
That proposal would return the ratio for payment of healthcare costs for BOSC members to 20 percent, with 80 percent of costs to be picked up by the Manchester School District. As of 2022, that ratio currently stands at 60/40, with the BOSC approving moving up the member contribution five percent each year after a vote in November 2018.
During public comment, former BOSC Member Lisa Freeman felt that it was a conflict of interest for members of the BOSC to even be considering the item, believing that not only is a conflict of interest but a violation of the city charter.
Freeman and former BOSC Member Richard Girard also stated that the proposal would not directly help students and incur costs in what many BOSC members already consider to be an underfunded budget.
Ward 11 BOSC Member Dr. Nicole Leapley disagreed, stating that this proposal would not impact current BOSC members, but members in future years, beginning with the next board after the 2023 municipal election.
Leapley, who was interrupted with comments from Freeman in the audience, also reiterated statements she made during committee meetings that access to health insurance from the Manchester School District has cost her access to Affordable Care Act private plans, resulting in thousands of dollars of costs to her each year.
She felt the fear that this could happen to others would dissuade people from various walks of life from pursuing seats on the board in the future.
“I want people to serve in our board who are not wealthy,” she said.
Ward 8 BOSC Member Peter Perich found himself in a similar situation, losing access to Medicare coverage due to the availability of coverage from the school district.
This is because the health care benefits offered by the Manchester School District are considered “employee benefits” under the Affordable Care Act, which Manchester School District Attorney Kathryn Cox Pelletier said made the members ineligible for Affordable Care Act or Medicare plans.
Yet, Cox Pelletier added that the issue was complicated due the BOSC members classification limbo, as they do not meet the legal definition of “independent contractors” but they don’t meet the definition of “employees” either for most purposes. Indeed, Manchester School District employees are disqualified from serving on the BOSC under the city’s charter.
A motion to table a decision on the matter was made by Ward 6 BOSC Member Ken Tassey, but it failed 8-6, with supporters for the decision including Tassey, Ward 1 BOSC Member Julie Turner, Ward 3 BOSC Member Karen Soule, At-Large BOSC Member Jim O’Connell, Ward 10 BOSC Member Gary Hamer, and Ward 12 BOSC Member Carlos Gonzalez.
O’Connell was not opposed to the requested change, and advocated for providing healthcare insurance to the lowest paid district staff as well. However, he sought more information on where the money would be shifted from in the district’s budget to make the change feasible.
This information was unclear, although Manchester School District Chief Financial Officer Karen DeFrancis said that costs are currently $20,000 per year.
After the motion to table, when asked about the potential conflict of interest surrounding the topic, Cox-Pelletier requested additional time to research the issue before providing an official legal opinion.
This led to a new motion to send the matter back to committee. Gonzalez told his fellow members that the confusion among several members of the board meant final action on the matter on this night would be inappropriate.
“The reason I voted to table (before), is that we need clarity,” he said. “I think we’re coming to a consensus that we need more clarity on this issue.”
Leapley disagreed that more clarity was needed, again citing her own personal experience as well as previous committee meetings where the topic was hashed out in depth.
However, Leapley did say she would support bringing the matter back to committee with the hope she could help inform her fellow board members on the nuances of the matter.