Eau Claire School District looking at new benefit plans

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis (WEAU)--More changes are in store for Eau Claire teachers and staff. The district is looking into new retirement benefit plans for employees to cut district costs.
The Eau Claire school administration says it costs too much out of pocket for the current employee benefit program.
Under the current system, the district will have to pay more than $166,000,000 in benefits to retired faculty and staff over the next three decades. That averages out to about $5.5 million a year.

"Many years ago when these benefit plans were negotiated into contracts costs of medical and dental benefits was very inexpensive," ESCD Director of Business Dan Van De Water.

The ever increasing cost of health care and retirement plus a growing district has left the district strapped for cash.

"It's not sustainable to pay the benefit plans that are in place and survive as an organization," said Van De Water

This school year 45 Eau Claire staff members can retire and over the next 15 years 66 percent of the districts staff will be eligible.

At Monday’s school board meeting the districts commitee in charge of looking at post-employment benefits outlined three alternative plans.

And while the specifics of the plans vary--from saving the district 4.7 million dollars to 31.4 million---the goal is the same.

"The key is to find an option that reduces costs and is fair to employees and doesn't pull the rug out from underneath employees that are close to retirement," said Van De Water.

One major change the district has already made is how new employees gain benefits.

"All employees hired now are under a defined contribution the cost," said Van De Water.

That means a person’s retirement is funded 'up front' and grows based on contributions and earnings instead of being given a set amount each month until retirement.

Van de water says the district is far from making a decision. One potential issue they are looking at is how to grandfather in current employees.