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Ayer-Shirley School Committee unanimous on need for health-insurance changes

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AYER — The Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee Tuesday night voted unanimously to consider making changes in employee health-insurance benefits.

It is a cost-saving measure whose time has come, and the Legislature paved the way.

According to Superintendent of Schools Carl Mock, the aim is to cut the cost of health insurance, which typically makes up a significant chunk of the school budget.

Mock said the move comes in response to relatively new state legislation that allows municipalities and regional school districts to make changes in the health-insurance design plans offered to employees.

If necessary, the changes can be made independently, bypassing collective bargaining. But Mock said the district notified its unions that the process would be initiated in the hope that negotiations would soon follow.

Representatives of the teachers union indicated they were on the same page and were pleased that the district had chosen to “look at the negotiation route first,” even though the option exists to make health-insurance design plan changes without union input.

The process begins with analysis of the current plan versus “GIC look-alike plans.” Once projected savings are calculated, data is sent to the state and it becomes public information, Mock said.

A committee will be formed to study the options and an “impartial” review will determine the next step.

“Certainly, town officials have asked if we would pursue this,” as they have, Mock said. If the change is made by Jan. 1, the district could save $100,000 that would be pumped back into the school system and help balance the budget for next year, he said.

Mock said the plan is to hire the same consultant who helped the nascent district set up its employee health-insurance plan two years ago.

Member Pat Kelly backed Mock’s assertion that the two member towns support the idea, especially Ayer, which realized “six-digit savings” by doing the same thing.

“Health insurance has been the bane of our budget, it chops away at everything else,” Kelly said. “It would be irresponsible not to look for ways to control it.

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