Arlington Community Schools became one of the first municipal districts to approve a new retiree health benefits package Tuesday night that is less generous than the one teachers receive in Shelby County Schools.
In the past, Shelby County teachers who retired as early as 52, could receive as many as 13 years of free health care before they turned 65, at a cost to the district of between $65,000 and $80,000 per teacher. The new policy will limit the number of years they are eligible to five.  Now it will only cost the district between $25,000 and $30,000 per teacher.
The municipalities and Shelby County Schools are fighting to retain and recruit the best teachers in the Mid-South.  Health care benefits have been a major concern for many teachers. Police and fire fighters in Memphis have also protested dramatic changes to retiree benefits its city council made last week.
The new health care policy in Arlington will only apply to new teachers. Teachers moving over from SCS will keep the same retiree health package that they originally were promised. So its fiscal impact won’t be felt for at least 15 years, when its new hires have worked long enough with the district to be eligible for the new retiree health benefits.
These savings will put the municipal districts in a better long-term financial situation, according to Superintendent Tammy Mason. “We really thought this was smart looking out for the future well-being of our district at the same time not taking away promises that were made to current employees when they retired,” Mason said.
Although this will be less generous than Shelby Count Schools’ retirement policy, Mason says it will be more generous than many similarly sized school districts across the state, who don’t offer any health benefits before their retirees turn 65.
The new policy will also save the district money by taking older retirees out of its health pool. Under the new policy retirees will be given money directly to buy their own individual insurance, rather than being included in the district’s Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) insurance as in the past. Since older retirees tend to get sick more frequently and have more claims, this will further reduce health costs.
This was just one of the more than 40 district policies that the Arlington board voted to approve at its meeting Tuesday, with three members present and two absent, and it concludes more than 200 policies that make up the district’s policy manual.
“Nobody thought we could pull this off, and it’s June and we just finished off our policy manual,” said Dale Viox, the board’s chair.
The board also approved a motion to receive private weekly communication from Mason, which may soon take the place of public working board meetings.
Now that they’ve finished most of their basic policies, they don’t want to waste time on working meetings, according to Viox. “We are a small district with four schools so we can get away with it, at least we think we can,” Viox said after the meeting. The board delayed making a decision on whether to eliminate its work sessions until July or August, when all its members will be present.
If they eliminated working meetings, rather than formally meeting to discuss board policies, Mason said she would send out agendas a week in advance of monthly board meetings and board members would be free to call her with questions.