Federal Health Care Regs Put School Districts In Tough Spot With Subs

School districts in Californi's Inland region are trying to decide how to juggle new federal healthcare rules that mandate they give health benefits to some substitute teachers.

Concerned with the financial obligation, Hemet Unified School District has begun limiting the number of days substitutes can work to avoid paying benefits. Riverside Unified School District has agreed to pay the insurance.

Hemet Board President Paul Bakkom says the board had no say in how the administrators dealt with the issue, but that he understands the financial motivation.

Large employers, such as almost every Inland school district, will face penalties if they don't offer health insurance to full-time employees in 2015. The law, often called Obamacare, defines anyone who regularly works more than 30 hours a week or 130 hours a month as a full-time employee entitled to the employer's health insurance plan. However, the law asks employers to average each employee's hours over a period ranging from three to 12 months.

Typically substitute teachers work seven hours a day, and if a sub works five days a week they still may not be considered full time because the hours are not consistent every week. Pay for a substitute teacher can vary by district from $100-400 a day. Districts tend to have a "pool" of subs who work full time some weeks and part time the next. Officials for the school district say they are studying substitutes pay records to determine who may be eligible and at what cost.

According to Dayna Straehley of the Press Enterprise, Inland Districts officials are averaging substitutes' hours over three months to gather information to plan their 2014-2015 budget. Hemet District Administrators are asking principals to consider using an alternate sub on day 5 to eliminate a substitute from working full time. A substitute teacher typically works only one or two days a week, but in some cases such as maternity leave, or long term illness a substitute is asked to stay on longer. In these cases, Hemet would encourage a principal to use a second substitute for one or two days, keeping the long term subs hours under 28 hours for the week.

California Teachers Association Board Member Don Bridge said the number of substitute teachers who work full time is minimal and that keeping a long-term sub would be worth the cost vs. disrupting a student's education.

However, he said some substitutes who want to work full-time may not want health insurance. Some don't need it, such as retirees or subs whose spouses have employer-provided family coverage. Kight-Moore suggests districts start by asking how many subs want insurance.

Some substitutes work in multiple school districts, some stay in one district. Some districts offer insurance to substitutes who want to buy it, but few do. Assistant Superintendent at Riverside Unified says they plan on offering their full time subs insurance,

"We're not going to limit people subbing," Mills said. "We have some who sub five days a week. We love people who sub five days a week. They know our schools."

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