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Locals react to plan to cut benefit package

By Sherri Ellington Gov. Nathan Deal has presented a budget to the Georgia General Assembly that would cut health insurance funding for about 11,500 parttime school staffers in Georgia, including bus drivers and cafeteria workers. The change could affect over 20 local school workers. ’We were very concerned with the discovery of the proposal by the governor to remove benefits for classified employees who work under 30 hours,’ said superintendent Dr. Jute Wilson. ‘Our employees in these departments are critical to the daily success of our system.’ Gov. Deal has called the measure an issue of fairness because the state does not pay the health care tab for thousands of part-time state employees. Fulltime teachers and state employees get subsidized health insurance through the $3 billion State Health Benefit Plan. So do non-certified school staff, including bus drivers and nutrition workers. Dr. Wilson expressed worry that the lack of benefits will hinder keeping and recruiting workers. ’With low wages and reduced hours, the only way we’re able to recruit and retain quality workers is the benefit package,’ said Dr. Wilson. ‘Our cafeteria workers and bus drivers are part of the Lamar County family and do a great job. We cannot have school without them. Our superintendent and school board associations are both working diligently to petition this proposal be withdrawn.’ Deal, however, has said people are asking why those who work less than 30 hours a week are able to take part in the state benefit system when other state employers cannot. Department of Human Resources commissioner Clyde Reece said coverage of non-certified school staffers ran a statewide $135 million shortfall last year. State officials have not said how much the state will save by cutting off bus driver insurance subsidies. ’We have to be mindful that to require someone to work at least 30 hours (to get coverage) is also a requirement we have for other state employees,’ Gov. Deal said. ‘If we make exceptions then in fairness we have to look at employees who are in the state system.’ Some lawmakers from both parties have indicated they oppose cutting off school bus drivers from health coverage. State Rep. Bill Werkheiser, R-Glennville, said, ‘I predict if they pass it, 80% to 90% of the drivers in rural Georgia won’t drive.’

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