According to a San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury report released in June, Banta’s trustees receive the highest health benefit compensation in San Joaquin County, $17,992 per member. This cost includes health, dental, vision and life insurance, if available.
Out of the three board members — Frank Silva, Steve Weinzapfel and Daniel Rocha — Silva and Rocha are eligible for lifetime benefits upon their exit from the board, because of a policy put in place more than 25 years ago.
“We are asking those two board members not to do that, to save us some money,” said parent Kelli Sordello. “Two board members could voluntarily refuse it. We’re asking them to pay what teachers pay (for insurance), or refuse the lifetime benefits.”
During the Sept. 8 district board meeting, board attorney Chesley Quaide informed trustees that the health benefits enjoyed by previous and current board members were part of a policy adopted by the 1985 school board. He said that policy included lifetime benefits, which are grandfathered in for Rocha and Silva, and they can’t be changed unless the current board votes to do so.
Quaide said one option would be for the board to accept a monthly $120 stipend in lieu of the health insurance benefit.
In reaction to the insurance question, Rocha said he feels his 18-plus years on the board make him deserving of the lifetime health benefits. He said that, upon completion of his time on the board, he intends to accept the benefits.
Superintendent William Draa said that only board members who have served a minimum of 12 years are eligible for the lifetime benefits.
Draa said the district wanted to address the matter in June, but a lack of board members and summer scheduling put it off until September.
When the benefits were initiated in 1985, Draa said, health insurance costs were minimal. But in the early part of the past decade, Draa said, health costs started to increase 17 to 18 percent annually.
Weinzapfel, who is not eligible for the lifetime benefits, said he supports keeping them.
“They can be angry and take jabs at us — bottom line is, no I’m not going to try to influence them (Silva and Rocha) to say for the good of district to give up benefits. Hell, no,” he said.
“They gave up the insurance they had,” Weinzapfel said. “So now they are well into (their) late 50s and early 60s, and both have medical problems. Who the hell is going to insure these guys? Don’t like it, vote us out, but lifetime benefits are going to stay.”
He said Silva and Rocha have been on the board for many, many years, and the insurance was offered to them as a benefit well after they got on the board. When they were approached, they said OK. And, being farmers, it was an attractive offer at the time since there was no cap involved, no co-payment and relatively inexpensive.
Draa said the matter is closed for now, unless the board decides to take action.
“They wanted to discuss the legalities of it,” he said. “I thought it was asked and answered, but you never know. My interpretation: It was asked and answered.”
Sordello said she feels since the children have suffered from program cuts, the board should follow suit and take a cut. In addition to cutting teacher aides, she said the district eliminated the Gifted And Talented Education program, funds for science camp, and a visiting arts program.
“Very disappointed,” she said. “They have to adapt to the times. The only response I got, one member (Silva) is considering paying what teachers pay or nothing at all. I take it they’re done discussing it; nothing we can do.”
Silva was unavailable for comment.