Wolf Point Herald

Alternative Offered For School District Employee Insurance

A local insurance company presented health insurance options to the Wolf Point School board negotiations committee and representatives of the two unions representing district employees Thursday, Feb. 12.
Brad Solberg, a licensed agent at Cassco Insurance Inc., presented alternatives to the Montana Unified School Trust to the committee and representatives of the Wolf Point Education Association, representing teachers, and the Wolf Point Educational Support Staff Association, representing non-certified paraprofessional aides, cafeteria workers, clerical staff and bus drivers.
MUST, a benefits provider for public-education in Montana with goals of providing high-quality, cost-effective health benefit plans and services throughout the state, is the current provider and offers choices of five insurance carriers.
Some questions remain about how some provisions of the Affordable Care Act could change language in the labor contract concerning employee insurance.
“The worst case scenario is you’ll stay where you’re at [with MUST],” Solberg said.
He said alternative carriers could include: PacificSource Insurance, a northwestern company that serves Idaho, Washington and Oregon; Montana Health CO-OP, a member-run, health insurance Co-op that began in 2013, offering affordable plans accepted by doctors and hospitals across the state; and Blue Cross/ Blue Shield. There are tiered rates that could very.
Federal Indian Health Service eligibility of many district employees is a factor.
“IHS changes the dynamic,” Solberg said.
He said insurance is rated on age, zip code and whether or not a person uses tobacco.
WPEA representative Patricia Toavs asked if all plans include prescriptions, dental and vision coverage.
Solberg responded that all include prescription coverage, but there is flexibility with enrollment for dental and vision coverage through other providers.
Toavs then asked about chronic health problems. She used asthma as an example.
Solberg said he is concerned that people are informed and know what they are choosing.
Toavs played devil’s advocate.
“Why should I change? MUST has been good to our district,” she said.
“Looking around doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with MUST,” Solberg said.
WPESSA president Jennifer Zimmerman said classified employees cannot afford MUST insurance premiums on what they are paid.
Solberg said two separate employee insurance groups are a possibility.
“There could be a scenario where one of them stays with MUST and one moves away [to different coverage],” he said.
Toavs said the WPEA contract requires that if the district changes insurance carriers, the coverage must be dollar for dollar the same.
School board chairman Martin DeWitt told Solberg to get a proposal with costs to the district as soon as possible.

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Engineer: Downtown Sewer Not As Bad As Previously Thought

An engineer told the Wolf Point City Council the aging sewer main in the downtown area is not in as poor of a condition as had been thought during the monthly meeting Monday, Feb. 19.
Engineer Jed Kirkland of Interstate Engineering of Nashua said a camera was used to inspect the main.
“It’s not that bad. I’ve seen worse,” he said.
City officials had considered having to reconstruct Main Street soon. It had not been done in over 20 years.
Mayor Chris Dschaak said the Wolf Point Village apartment project is on hold. He said the city has not heard from the developer for more than a month.
Council member Tina Bets His Medicine, who is also a founding member of Wolf Point Pound Puppies, told the council that Pound Puppies has rescued 528 dogs from the city’s pound since February 2013 and found homes for them. Dschaak commended the organization for saving an average of more than 20 dogs each month.

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First Salary Proposals Surface At School District-Union Negotiations

The Wolf Point Educational Support Staff Association presented a proposed salary schedule to the Wolf Point School board negotiations committee during the third round of collective bargaining negotiations Thursday, Feb. 12.
The WPESSA is the union that represents classified school district employees that include non-certified aides, cafeteria workers, clerical staff and bus drivers.
Proposals include 20 annual steps with the following starting and maximum annual hourly rates. For paraprofessionals, the starting wage would be $10.30 hourly with a Step 20 cap at $19.80. The other ranges for various positions are: custodians, $10.76-$20.69; secretaries, $10.84-$20.84; head custodians, $12.27-$23.59; maintenance director, $12.77-$24.55; and district office staff and the IT tech, $13.63-$26.20. Instructional paraprofessionals holding an associate’s degree or higher would receive $1 more per hour.
WPESSA president Jennifer Zimmerman presented a memorandum to the board and school administrators that the union is terminating the practice of allowing district administrators to assign WPESSA bargaining unit members as classroom substitute teachers.
“In the past, we have not grieved the assignment which is outside the negotiated job descriptions, but going forward we will enforce the contract,” Zimmerman’s memo stated.
The committee of the WPSD board and representatives of the Wolf Point Education Association, which represents the teachers, also met.

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County Begins Process Of Updating Its Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan

Integrated Solutions Consulting of Fargo, N.D., has been awarded the contract to review and update Roosevelt County’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan in collaboration with Valley, Daniels and Sheridan counties’ joint PDM Grant.
Collectively, the four counties are working together through the shared grant, with each county receiving its own personalized plan to fit its hazards-needs for mitigating natural and manmade disasters.
ISC met Feb. 10 with the county’s Local Emergency Planning Committee to present them with an overview of the process set to take place over the next 18 months which will identify the key potential hazards within the county.
Once the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state approves of the plan, the county and incorporated towns will be asked to adopt it.
“It’s important for people to understand the financial significance and importance of this process. It is estimated that, for every $1 spent on mitigation planning the county does, an estimated $3 is saved during the disaster event and recovery period. More importantly, planning for these events is morally and ethically the right thing to do save lives and property and it is vital for the people of this community to be a part of that process,” said Mike Kemp, an ISC consultant.
The plan will examine the wide range of hazards that affect Roosevelt County, recent events, the probability of future occurrences and the vulnerabilities of our population. From that assessment, a plan of action to mitigate these hazards will be developed.
This process enables a community to remain resilient in times of disaster. It’s a proactive approach to dealing with what could happen in our community in terms of disaster.
“With the dangers presented from the Bakken Oil, this is an excellent time to be looking at our current plan and improve upon it. As an example, people may not realize that a derailed oil tanker has the potential to require a half-mile isolation area. That would mean evacuating our entire town. Those are the potential realities we need to be looking at in this plan,” said Dan Sietsema, Roosevelt County Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator.
Using a “Whole Community Approach,” the four-phased planning process will first look at the community’s profile and makeup. In phase two, potential hazards will be identified and, in the third phase, a formula will be used to identify the top threats to the area that need to be focused on. The final phase will consist of identifying and implementing changes that may mitigate or lessen the potential devastation created by these threats.
“The goal at the end of the day is to essentially put together policies and procedures that help us manage and recover from hazards and the disasters they create,” said Kemp.
FEMA requires that PDM plans be updated every five years in order for the county to remain eligible to receive disaster mitigation funds.
The PDM grant is a matching-grant that requires the county to cover 25 percent of the cost through money, or in-kind matching. The remaining 75 percent is absorbed through FEMA.
The county’s LEPC meets at 2 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month at rotating locations. Future public meetings will be taking place to involve the community in drafting the plan at various locations throughout the county.
For more information, contact Dan Sietsema at 653-6224.

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Search For New School Superintendent Underway

The Wolf Point School Board held a special meeting to meet with the Montana School Boards Association, Tuesday, Feb. 17, to discuss the search for a new school superintendent.
Following 24 years as an educator and administrator for the Wolf Point School District, the last two as district superintendent, Joe Paine recently submitted his resignation to become a principal in Grenora, N.D. Paine’s final day is June 15.
The district is attempting to expedite the process with a new superintendent in place July 1.
“I just don’t want to wait and lose out on any quality candidates by waiting,” board chairman Martin DeWitt said.
The Board met via video conference with Kerri Langoni of the MTSBA.
The same advertisement used when Paine was hired two years ago will be used with the inclusion of a description of the community and its amenities. It will be posted online Thursday, Feb. 19.
The application period, with electronic applications, will close March 12. The board will hold a candidate screening meeting Thursday, March 19. Interviews will be about two weeks later.
The salary range will be $80,000-$90,000 annually, depending on experience, with full family medical benefits and other benefits. Paine is receiving $81,600.
DeWitt said the district is paying the MTSBA $5,500 for the search and screening process and paid $5,000 for the same services two years ago. Additionally, the district pays the MTSBA nearly $10,000 for annual dues and has paid additional funds for legal issues. The total amount spent to the
MTSBA over the last five years was not available.

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