Affordable Care Act May Force Schools to Cut Hours, Spending

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Cutting hours so fewer employees qualify under the Affordable Care Act isn't something most Nebraska school districts say they want to do.

"That certainly is an option that will be studied, but that is not the best option for delivery of education to students," said Wayne Stelk, Director of Human Resources for Grand Island Public Schools.

But it's something they may soon have to do. Increased health care costs associated with the law are forcing districts to look at their bottom line.

"Those are ongoing discussions that we currently have. We'll continue to have those as we began to set our budget for next year," said Damon McDonald, Superintendent of Aurora Public Schools.

The law requires employers to provide health benefits for all employees who work more than 30 hours a week. They must pay for at least 60 percent of health expenses, although it may be more, as employees cannot be allowed to pay more than 9.5 percent of their family income. Part-time, non-teaching employees would be the ones most directly affected.

"We're going to take a look at every position and how the new health care reform affects everybody's status," McDonald said.

Some districts say they will have to re-prioritize spending in things such as infrastructure and technology improvements.

"Some things that we have set as a priority, maybe we just wait on those priorities as we look to cover some of the health care increases," said McDonald.

Others say they may choose to not offer benefits and pay a penalty instead.

"If the penalties or the fines for accessing the exchange are less than the cost for the district to actually provide health insurance, I think we have to present that as one option to our board of education," said Stelk.

Whatever the choice, districts say they just hope it won't adversely affect their students.