SWITZERLAND CO., IN (FOX19) - After voting to give itself full health insurance coverage for $1 a year, the Switzerland County School Corporation board voted Monday night to undo the January vote.
That January move allowed board members to receive full health, dental and vision insurance—paid for by tax payers—for only $1 a year.
Monday night's about-face comes after a FOX19 NOW investigation into years of tax dollars spent on this perk and a vast outcry from tax payers.
The board voted 4 to 3 to offer health, dental and vision coverage for members at $1 a year in January. Monday night's vote was unanimous, ending the perk starting in January 2017.
But, the four board members who voted for the perk - Nancy Peters, Jill Cord, Wayne Daugherty and Bill Roberts - will continue getting the perk through the end of the year, receiving full health benefits for one dollar.
Peters, who made the motion Monday night to end the perk starting in 2017, refused to comment on her change of mind when FOX19 attempted to interview her after the board meeting. Cord, the only member to speak out in defense of the perk during the meeting, told FOX19 "I'm not the spokesperson," and refused to comment further about her votes as an elected official on the school board.
Monday night, the board met a packed house of tax payers, looking for answers from the board. The vote to end the insurance benefit was made before the board allowed public comment.
"It's a step in the right direction, but it's still going to cost us $80,000," Chris Oatman told FOX19's Jody Barr. Oatman started an online petition, calling for the resignation of the four board members who voted to accept the perk.
"These guys come alongand say we deserve something better than the teachers. We deserve something for $1. That's a slap in the face of the teachers, it's a slap in the face to the tax payers," Kerry Louderback told FOX19. Louderback told the board during public comment they should resign.
"That's one way to terminate the cost, immediately, get rid of this board," Louderback said.
THE JANUARY DECISION
The practice has gone on for years inside the Switzerland County School Corporation, but a search of the district's records show no board member has tried to stop the perk.
That's until board member Joe Bennett publicly challenged the perk during a November meeting where he made a motion to stop the benefit. Bennett wanted board members who want to purchase the district's coverage, to do so at the same price as teachers.
It's the same perk offered to SCSC Superintendent, Mike Jones as part of his employment contract.
Bennett was the only member to openly challenge the perk during the Jan. 11 meeting.
"They pay their portion, just like a teacher would," Bennett told FOX19 following the Jan. 11 meeting where the board voted to cover itself for $1 a year.
Bennett, along with board members Kathryn Collier and Josh Deck voted against the $1 a year perk. Members Wayne Daugherty, Bill Roberts, Jill Cord and Nancy Peters all voted to keep the perk.
"We nickel and dime a lot of expenses. We have the opportunity to save $30,000 to $80,000 a year for this corporation. I think we owe it to the people in the audience," Bennett told the board just before the final vote.
The school board is already compensated for service, using tax dollars. Each member is paid an annual salary of $2,000 and another $112 for each meeting and another $62 for every committee meeting. The health insurance benefit could add up to another $10,000 for each member who elects coverage.
The school board is a less than part time position and each member is elected by the public.
We filed a records request with the Switzerland County School Corporation for spending records for board member health insurance coverage. SCSC records show four members have collected monthly health insurance benefits since Jan. 1, 2011.
Those members are: Jill Cord, Wayne Daugherty, Nancy Peters and Bill Roberts. They are the same four who voted Jan. 11 to insure themselves at $1 a year, while tax payers pay the rest. All four are taking advantage of full health, vision and dental coverage, the public record shows.
Since 2011, the district has spent $485,057.15 on health benefits for those four board members, SCSC records show.
Tax payers are paying $6,657.08 a month to cover those four members.
SCSC records show six board members are covered under the district's life insurance policy. Tax payers are spending $40.95 each month. In 2015, tax payers spent $491.40 to provide life insurance coverage for six SCSC board members.
Board members Josh Deck and Joe Bennett receive the life insurance, but do not receive the health, dental or vision coverage.
The only board member not taking any of the tax payer-funded perks is Kathryn Collier, SCSC records show.
EXPLAINING THEIR VOTES
Following the Jan. 11 meeting, we tried to have each of the four board members who voted for the perk to explain their reasons behind it.
"I have no comment," board member Wayne Daugherty told FOX19 following the meeting. "I don't have to explain that," Daugherty said.
Board member Bill Roberts told FOX19 he had no problem taking the health insurance benefit and considers it no different than benefits offered to employees of private businesses, "Are you going to turn down benefits that are available to you," Roberts asked FOX19's Jody Barr during a Jan. 11 interview.
"We're talking about tax dollars," Barr replied, "Well, part of them are my tax dollars, too," Roberts said.
"We'd like to talk with you about your vote on the insurance agreement," Barr asked school board president Nany Peters. "Good," Peters replied. "Could you explain to the public why you and three other members of this board felt--," Barr said before being Peters interrupted saying, "I can't answer for the other three, I know why I did, thank you," Peters said. "Could you tell us why," Barr asked Peters. "No," Peters replied as she walked away from the interview and out of the school district's headquarters.
"I'm not going to speak with you, sir," board member Jill Cord told Barr following the meeting. Cord explained that she'd already had discussions with her constituents about her vote to receive the perk and would not explain her reasoning to the media.
"I don't have any more comment, sir. Thank you," Cord said.
SWITZERLAND COUNTY ALONE IN THIS
We checked with every school district in our Tri-State coverage area to see if the perk was common or if Switzerland County School Corporation's board benefits were out of the normal course of business. We found, SCSC does something only one other district is doing.
Our viewing area comprises 24 counties in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Of all the districts we called, only one had records of board members receiving tax payer-funded insurance benefits.
Union County–College Corner Joint School District in Liberty, Indiana pays the cost of health insurance to its board members. The district confirmed to FOX19 that three members receive free health coverage, but that those members were "grandfathered" into the deal.
UCCCJSD tells FOX19, the district pays $582 a month for board members David Hofmann, Ben Caskey and Darrell Harvey, the district's human resources office confirmed.
UCCCJSD's school board changed its policy a few years ago and no longer offers the perk, the district confirmed.
No district in the eight counties we contacted in our viewing area offer the perk, and doing so would be illegal, according to Hamilton City School District Treasurer Bob Hancock.
"That would be illegal under Ohio Revised Code 3313.12, which prohibits such compensation," Hancock said in a phone interview Nov. 24. Hamilton City School board members don't receive any compensation, Hancock said.
The districts we contacted in Kentucky also did not pay health insurance for board members, although each district's finance department said it is something state law would allow.
Tax payers will fund Switzerland County School Corporation's health benefits through Dec. 31, 2016. After that, the district could hold another vote to end the perk for 2017.