Retiree health benefits threatened by Senate budget

By Hannah Myers - [email protected]

ASHE COUNTY — According to the 2015-17 proposed N.C. Senate budget, state-paid health retirement benefits for teachers and state employees hired after Jan. 1, 2016 would be eliminated.

The provision appears within the Senate’s 500-page budget bill for 2015-17 but isn’t found in the N.C. House of Representatives proposed budget. According to Senate Leaders, the bill provision addresses the rising costs associated with retiree health coverage.

“North Carolina has a massive $26 billion unfunded liability for retiree medical coverage and the Senate budget is a prudent way to address the long-term viability of the State Health Plan,” Senate leader Phil Berger spokeswoman Shelly Carver said.

The current law provides teachers and state employees with a free health insurance plan throughout retirement for those who have worked at least 20 years. Those who retire after 10 to 20 years pay half of their coverage cost. Currently, more than 600,000 teachers and state employees are covered by the retiree state health plan.

Many local and state school leaders throughout North Carolina have expressed their concerns that the elimination would impact school’s abilities to recruit and retain teachers.

Ashe County School Superintendent Dr. Todd Holden voiced his concerns about the proposed elimination of retirement health benefits and future teacher recruitment potential at the Ashe County School board meeting on Monday, Aug. 3

“What I see as a threat for our district is teacher retention and recruitment,” Holden said.

After a recent visit to Appalachian State University’s Reich College of Education, Holden found that many students may not plan to stay in North Carolina to work as teachers if the provision passes.

Holden said he asked ASU students in the Education field how many would stay and work as teachers in North Carolina if retirement benefits are eliminated. According to Holden, Only 20 percent of those students raised their hands.

According to Holden, if health benefits for retirees are taken away, the pool of candidates for future North Carolina teachers will continue to dwindle.

“We’ve got to do something different and we’re going to have to try and figure out someway to keep these young people coming into Ashe County,” Holden said. “Its already bad and it’s going to get worse.”

The provision would only become law if both the Senate and the House find agreement in the proposed state budget.

The proposed Senate budget will also eliminate more teacher assistant jobs and state funding for driver’s education.

A temporary budget was recently approved to run the state through Aug. 14 and it is expected that the General Assembly will spend the remainder of the summer finalizing the final 2015-17 state budget.

Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.

By Hannah Myers

[email protected]

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