Racing against a Sunday deadline for the expiration of school insurance, county school board members voted to merge coverage with the carrier that insures county government.
During a brief board meeting yesterday, which was continued from last Monday, board members still seemed hesitant about joining forces with the county under a plan estimated to save $1.9 million. Board and county insurance plans will bejoined for general insurance, boilers, bus contractors and workers' compensation.
The proposal was initiated as a cost-saving measure by County Executive Robert R. Neall, who said the merge would eliminate duplication in county services.
The plan raised suspicions among school board members wary after a series of budget skirmishes with the county executive.
Board members needed reassurance that the proposed mergerwas not the first step toward losing control of their budget to the county. In previous meetings, most of the members came out against the idea and requested additional studies to determine whether it wouldbe more beneficial to remain independent.
During yesterday's meeting, board member Patricia Huecker questioned not only the plan but also the last-minute timing of the vote. She also criticized what she said were over-estimates in insurance categories.
"Somebody has todo a better job on estimating numbers," Huecker said. "This year, asof the last pay period, we had $6.6 million in fixed (insurance) charges. There is no way we will spend that kind of money with school out. We will have a fund balance.
"If $4 million is left in that fund, that's a lot of money when we are talking about cutting activity buses, laying off people and changing job descriptions. Somebody has to get better quotes."
Board members were reassured by school superintendent Larry L.Lorton and fiscal officer William Peacock that the insurance agreement would be renewed annually in case they later became displeased with the arrangement.
Board member Dorothy Chaney said she was concerned because contract language must be approved by the board's attorney, P. Tyson Bennett. Yesterday's meeting was scheduled to be the board's last before the current insurance coverage expires.
"Our nose is on the line," Chaney said, while being assured byLorton that the contract almost certainly will be acceptable. "It has to be acceptable to use, with all due respect to the county."
The board voted 6-0 in favor of the proposal. Members Paul Greksa and Jo Ann Tollenger were not present, but Greksa sent a note in support of the merger.
Donna L. Goins, risk manager for the county government, sat through the meeting awaiting the vote.
"It's a very good decision," Goins said. "It will provide the board with better insurance and we use tax dollars better."