Wood County Schools holds second dental insurance forum

Wood County Schools teachers Meredith Hahn, left, and Amanda Moles, right, participate in a group discussion during Monday’s public forum on dental insurance for current and past employees. (Photo by Michael Erb)

PARKERSBURG — Attendance at Wood County Schools’ second and final public forum on employee dental insurance nearly doubled from last week’s session.

Close to 60 current and past employees as well as a few community members gathered Monday evening at Jefferson Elementary Center to discuss possible solutions to a half-million dollar cost overage in the district’s dental benefits.

Superintendent Will Hosaflook said he has been researching the history of the dental benefits which were given to professional employees years ago in lieu of a pay raise. Hosaflook said minutes of past Wood County Board of Education meetings show attempts to address or modify the benefit, but do not provide details on how some of the initial benefits were determined.

“Those deals were not part of the board minutes,” he said. “I can only go by the board minutes.”

But Hosaflook reiterated a promise to employees, that while administrators were looking to bring down the cost of the benefit, they were not looking to eliminate the coverage.

Mike Boyd, a retired Wood County Schools administrator, listens to a discussion during Monday’s public forum on employee dental insurance. (Photo by Michael Erb)

“I am not going to take your insurance away,” he said. “The board does not want to take your insurance away.”

Hosaflook said the cost of the insurance per person has increased over the years while the number of active professional employees participating in the program has decreased. The number of retired employees participating has increased, and within a few years may outpace the number of active employees.

All of this, he said, has occurred as the school system has lost student enrollment and millions in state funding.

In addition to the forums, Wood County Schools has placed a survey on its website at woodcountyschoolswv.com. Hosaflook said more than 280 people have responded to the survey, which will remain online for several more weeks.

Current Wood County Board of Education members attended both public forums but did not participate. Board member Justin Raber said he was pleased to see increased turnout and said while the input will be invaluable, the forums also serve another equally important purpose.

Retired Wood County Schools teacher Penelope Tice emphasizes a point during a discussion at Monday’s public forum on dental insurance for current and past employees. (Photo by Michael Erb)

“Opening it up and allowing all the stakeholders to be part of the process is essential to creating transparency and trust,” he said. “It helps to get everyone’s perspective and it helps to flesh out where the concerns are.”

Board President Rick Olcott said the forums and survey will help officials determine the best way to address the issue.

“Our primary goal is to obtain the pulse of the community,” he said. “My personal goal is for this to give us direction as a board that the community will rally around.”

Officials said they hope to have preliminary data available for discussion at tonight’s school board meeting. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the district’s central office at the corner of Plum and 13th streets in Parkersburg.