Disappointed. Heartbroken. Short-changed. Those were words the president of the Education Association of St. Mary’s County used to describe what the county commissioners did Tuesday.
School officials attended Tuesday’s meeting to request approval to use $4 million of the school system’s fund balance for various uses, including a health insurance holiday. It was a reward to school employees for using their health insurance efficiently.
In the past, the school system has used money refunded by its health insurance company to pay for its employees’ health insurance premiums for one or more paychecks. That was again this year’s plan, until the county commissioners said no.
They denied a request to use $1.5 million of the school system’s fund balance to return to teachers and other employees through health insurance premiums.
EASMC President Jill Morris said she spoke with Commissioner Eric Colvin (R), sharing her concerns and disappointment. She said it feels like the “Grinch stole Christmas.”
“This is money earned back by our members … short-changing the members that work hard,” she said, adding that other school staff members who look forward to the money were upset.
“It was surprising that it was not approved,” Karin Bailey, chair of St. Mary’s school board, said.
She said the next steps will be for the school superintendent and his staff to make a recommendation on what they will do with the $1.5 million. And based on the recommendation, the school board will decide if the plan will go back to the county for approval.
Bailey said health insurance holidays were approved in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said he was hesitant to approve $1.5 million for another health insurance holiday after commissioners approved one for the board the previous year.
“That money can be put back into the system” and used for something more significant, he said in Tuesday’s meeting.
“Taxpayer money needs to go into things like structural projects and books,” Commissioner John O’ Connor (R) said.
Morris praised Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) for being the only one who stood up for them and voted yes, when the others voted no to using the money for a health insurance holiday.
“The reason they got the rebate is because these teachers worked hard to save money,” Hewitt told The Enterprise. He said he is concerned if you take away the holiday rebate, it takes away the employees’ incentive.
“They earned it,” he said.
Staff writer Madison Bateman contributed to this report.