By Vinde Wells
Unlike most private and public employers, the Oregon School District will pay less for employee health insurance premiums in the coming year.
The Oregon School Board approved a plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois Dec. 16 that means the overall cost to the district will be 1.4 percent less than last year.
"That doesn't happen very often," said Superintendent Tom Mahoney. "I was very pleased we were able to do this."
He said the decrease was accomplished through a competitive bidding process with Blue Cross Blue Shield and another company.
The district shares the cost of insurance with employees. In some cases, employees will also see a decrease in their premiums, while others will have a modest increase.
The district's portion of the health insurance cost will be $1.1 million under the new plan.
For Oregon Education Association (OEA) members, the district pays 88 percent of the premium cost for an eligible employee, 84 percent for the employee and spouse, 84 percent for the employee and children, and 77 percent for family coverage.
For Oregon Education Support Personnel Association (OESPA) members, the district pays 92.5 percent of the premium cost for an eligible employee, 60 percent for the employee and spouse, 60 percent for the employee and children, and 60 percent for family coverage.
In another matter, the board approved spending $671,560 for additional Health & Life Safety work to the school's building.
Mahoney said the amount is within the $7.5 million approved Oct. 21 for Health & Life Safety projects.
The additional projects include more security cameras at various school entrances, repairs to the doors of the band room at Oregon High School, additional electrical outlets and upgrades to transformers at OHS and Oregon Elementary School, removing and replacing existing phone cables, and adding air-conditioning in six server rooms.
The majority of the Health & Life Safety work — an estimated $7.1 million — will be for for the new heating and cooling system.
In October, the board hired Chevron Energy Solutions, Chicago, to oversee the projects, which will include installing geothermal systems to heat and cool Oregon High School and Oregon Elementary School, improving security at all the district's buildings and repairing a water main.
Estimates show that operating the new system, even with cooling included, will cost less than what the district is now spending, Mahoney said.
Digging the wells for the geothermal systems is expected to begin in February, with the other work scheduled to start after school is out.
The projects will be completed by the time classes start next fall, Mahoney said.
The junior high in Mt. Morris cannot be included as part of a Health & Life Safety project, Mahoney said, because its heating system, installed in the early 2000s, is too new and still works.
The Health & Life Safety process only allows for replacement of equipment that has functioned for the duration of its useful life or has a catastrophic failure, he said.
However, he said district officials are considering options for air-conditioning at the junior high and plan to install a cooling system in time for the beginning of the 2015-16 school year.