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Sullivan school system to give 2% raises

Rick Wagner • Jul 26, 2019 at 9:40 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County teachers and other school system employees will receive a true 2% raise for the 2019-20 school year instead of a .5% raise, thanks to a motion by school board Vice Chairman Randall Jones and a 6-0 school board vote with one absent Thursday.

The Board of Education also voted to notify Tennessee by the Aug. 1 deadline that it plans to join the Tennessee dental insurance plan, abandoning its self-insured dental program.

HOW WERE RAISES APPROVED?

All board members except the absent Mark Ireson voted in regular session for Jones’ motion to fund the raises with money that had been used for the retirement of the ESG or Energy Systems Group energy efficiency program that was paid off in the 2018-19 school year.

Jones said an annual appropriation had been going to retire the original $24.2 million in bonds, amounting to $36 million over the years. He said the last payment of more than $2.5 million has been made. Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski, who is retiring effective July 31 after 42 years with the school system, said she, finance head Ingrid DeLoach and other staff will work to apply the raises across the board to all employees.

She said they are awaiting word from Sullivan County officials on the recently approved county budget, which includes the school budget, and predicted that new Director David Cox would present the school budget to the board at its next meeting Aug. 8.

“Ingrid and I will get to work on that,” Rafalowski said. Jones said 2% was provided to county employees for the 2019-20 budget and that the Tennessee budget of Gov. Bill Lee provides 2% raises to teachers in positions required by the minimum state funding formula.

WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH DENTAL?

Rafalowski apologized to the board for presenting the dental proposal without much advance notice. She said it was unavoidable since school officials found out the deadline was Aug. 1 and the board didn’t meeting in early July as usual and had its work session at 5 p.m. before the 6:30 p.m. meeting instead of the week before.

However, she and DeLoach said that staying with the self-funded dental plan, administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield, was becoming more expensive and uncertain. They said the cost will go up slightly for active employees and more for retirees but that changes recommended for the self-funded program would mean larger increases for the retirees. They also said the new plan overall has better benefits and less costs in many areas.

The system left self-funded health insurance years ago to return to the state health plan. The dental switch will be effective Jan. 1, 2020.

“Any time you can get out of a self-insured situation, I would highly recommend it,” DeLoach told the board.

WHAT ELSE?

The board also approved change orders of $32,340 and $6,509.20 for the new middle school and $248,536.89 for the new high school; approved standard bus contracts for eight routes in the 2019-20 school year, approved the annual school nutrition program agreement; and approved letting new Director David Cox have eight vacation day credits for five days he’s already spent working in Sullivan County while on vacation from his Maryland superintendent’s job and three days he will spend starting this coming Monday before his first official day Aug. 1.

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