School Board Votes in Secret; Another Lawsuit on Horizon?
by Brandi Makuski City-Times Editor
School district employees say they were blindsided late last month when discovering they’d lost their long- term care benefits.
In a letter to employees dated July 10, Superintendent Atilla Weninger told employees the move was necessary due to budget constraints.
“Since the district began offering the group LTC plan coverage to active employees and retirees, the annual cost of the group plan has more than doubled,” Weninger wrote.
“Also, WEA Trust has indicated that these premium increases will continue for the foreseeable future.”
The board voted in closed session to approve the measure on April 9. District employees said it was two full months before they were notified of the change, but many said that’s not their main complaint.
“We’re concerned about the secrecy and non- transparency on the action of this,” said Stevens Point Area Education Association President Pat Leahy.
“When we asked where this vote took place, we were told dates and times, however, to date, we have not been given the minutes for confirmation,” he said.
“It is one thing to have a public discussion with employees about a benefit the district feels they no longer want, or are willing, to fund. It is another when they board posts a vaguely worded, closed- session announcement that votes in closed session to end this benefit, but reconvenes and publicly states no action was taken.”
Retiree Patricia Dow of Plover said although she understood it was the district’s right to eliminate the benefit, the lack of public conversation will force her to make a major financial decision in a very short time.
“In 38 years of living in this district, I’ve never seen the board vote in closed session and not report it,” she said.
Neither Weninger nor the board members responded to the accusations of unethical behavior over the closed- session vote. At least one district employee said she was planning to take legal action.
“I have already indicated to [the board] that the advice of our attorney is that the action you are taking with LTC insurance does not fulfill your legal obligation to retired teachers,” said retiree Mary Lee Reineking of Almond.
“Our attorney tells me we have a strong case,” she added.
The district was threatened with legal action almost one year ago, when 22 retirees joined forces and hired a Madison- based law firm to draft a suit against the district over retirement benefits. The matter was resolved prior to the suit could be filed.
Reineking added she was unaware of retirees preparing to sue the district.
“I have suggested to you it would be preferable to resolve this among reasonable adults, rather than take it to court,” she told the board.