A 24 percent increase in insurance costs for Haines Borough School District personnel will fall hard on aides and other non-teaching staff, whose monthly contributions for the district’s health care program will rise 150 percent, from $125 to $310 per month.

Teachers also will pay an additional $185 per month for coverage, up from $100 per month they currently pay.

The rate hike adds about $103,000 to the $776,000 insurance bill the district had anticipated while formulating its $4.96 million general fund budget for the coming year. The increase in employee contributions also will total about $103,000, said Rich Carlson, the district’s interim superintendent.

“It’s pretty substantial,” Carlson said of the increase. “The cost just ballooned.”

About 20 teachers’ aides and other staff who work more than 30 hours per week are affected. In interviews this week, they said the hike will serve as an effective pay cut that will make recruiting for the positions more difficult if the district doesn’t subsequently increase pay.

“I don’t know that I’ll have (the money to pay for the increase),” said Kara Murphy, a single mom who has worked 10 years as a teacher’s aide. “Do I need to move and get a new job? I live paycheck to paycheck as it is, pretty much.”

“It’s cheaper for me to quit my job and go on welfare. That’s what I compare it to. If they want people to have jobs and keep working, they have to make benefits affordable or you might as well go back on the (welfare) system. There are plenty of people who don’t work and have insurance and plenty of food to eat,” Murphy said.

Denise Sherman, another aide who works two jobs in addition to her position at the school, also expressed frustration. “What is the purpose of having group insurance if, as a group, we can’t afford it?”

Suzanne Newton served on the negotiating committee representing unionized non-teachers, also called “classified” employees.

“It’s a concern because it’s a huge hit all at once,” Newton said. “If your average monthly income is $1,600, you’re down to about $1,200 in take-home pay. For classified employees, that’s huge. We don’t have solutions or a buffer or anything.”

The school district currently pays $1,400 per month for classified employees’ health care and $1,425 per month per teacher. Under the increase, the district’s monthly payments would rise to $1,585 and $1,610, respectively.

The district is a member of Alaska Health Trust, a pool of 22 Alaska school districts that buy insurance through Aetna.

The cost of the plan the district buys hasn’t risen for three years, so superintendent Carlson said he was expecting an increase and had budgeted for a 9 percent hike.

Carlson said one option the district might consider is working with the employees’ union when contract negotiations resume next spring to allow employees who already qualify for an alternative form of coverage to opt out of the district’s plan.

Under that arrangement – similar to programs that already exist in some rural Alaska areas where a significant number of employees qualify for health programs for Alaska Natives – the district would pay a set amount in lieu of paying its share of the district plan. Carlson said the arrangement could be a “win-win.”

“It would save the district money and be money in (employees’) pockets if they have an alternative plan,” Carlson said. “That could be part of negotiations next spring.”

The cost to classified employees is a concern for other workers at the school. Middle school special education teacher Jason Eson said the hike in his insurance will more than eradicate the step increase he was due to get next year.

“I’ll be making less money next year than I’m making this year, but I can’t do my job without (teachers’ aides),” Eson said.

Eson writes individual plans for students that, by federal law, require student time with teachers or aides. “(Aides) offer support to classroom teachers and to students. We couldn’t get anywhere without them,” he said.