Residents expressed dismay over mask use and the school board approved limited health insurance coverage for substitute teachers at the Janesville School Board meeting Monday night.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, many residents criticized school board Vice President Jim Millard and Superintendent Steve Pophal for having a maskless discussion, caught in a cellphone photo through a window at the Educational Services Center, before the last school board meeting Oct. 26.
“We have all seen the pictures of you board members without a mask on, which is fine, because that is your choice,” said Colton Measner, a junior at Craig High School. “But we want our choice back. In what world is it OK for people to vote yes on a mandate but then they don’t follow it?”
The mask mandate was a topic for most of the speakers that night. Two speakers compared mask mandates to the persecution Jewish people faced in Nazi Germany during World War II.
This comparison has been made in multiple meetings during the past year.
One speaker Tuesday night said he felt comfortable leaving the meeting without a mask and took his mask off at the lectern, garnering audience applause.
Health coverage for substitutes
Tina Johnson, the district’s director of benefits administration and wellness, presented to the board a plan to provide limited health insurance coverage for licensed substitute teachers.
Johnson said the district has a shortage of substitute teachers and that one major issue is they are not allowed to surpass 10 work days (or 14 days for retirees) in the school district. If substitutes go over that total, the district would need to offer them health coverage.
“We have roughly 123 substitute teachers and 70% of those 123 reach the cap that we have,” Johnson said. “A third of the substitutes are retired teachers in the school district of Janesville, most of whom are on our health benefits.”
The district made a plan with Cottingham & Butler, a Madison insurance company, to offer single health insurance coverage. If an employee wants to have a child or family plan, they could sign up for one but would have to pay the difference.
After Johnson’s presentation, board member Lisa Hurda asked whether the district surveyed those in the substitute teacher pool to see if the insurance offer would entice them to work beyond the 10-day limit.
“We’re unable to talk about offers of coverage or health benefits at all, but what we did instead was an internal analysis of the 123 (substitute teachers),” Johnson said. “We do know the age groups, so 65 and older would be Medicare eligible. We have some younger kids that are under 26, so there’s a possibility of them being on their parents’ insurance still. So based on all those pieces, we felt that we were in a good position to offer this coverage.”
Superintendent Steve Pophal added to Johnson’s answer to Hurda’s question.
“We’re putting a plan in place that we suspect probably not very many people will take advantage of. It’s really not about trying to extend the benefit. We have to do this because of the 10- and 14-day cap so they can work up to 20 or 22 days a month—whatever the number of school days are in that month. This is a workaround for that.”
The proposal was approved 9-0.