Part-time school employees keep eye on new healthcare laws

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Part-time school custodians, cafeteria workers and classroom aides could lose some of their hours and pay, depending on how their districts respond to new federal laws requiring healthcare.

Eyewitness News examines the fallout over President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act and why the leader of Indiana's Teacher's Association is warning against what he calls "knee jerk" reactions.

Outside of Shortridge High School, the grass is freshly cut. It's a labor of love for Delbert Sanders.

"I work full-time, 40 hours a week, a little more, but I just love it," he told Eyewitness News as he talked about edging, trimming and cleaning Indianapolis Public Schools.

For 39 years, he's made a full-time living from it, with optional health care insurance. But as he retires, he fears other custodial workers will lose out.

School districts statewide are weighing potential cuts in response to the government's Affordable Care Act.

"I think it's a bad deal, because people need insurance. How else are you going to survive?" questioned Sanders.

Companies with 50 or more employees are now required to provide healthcare insurance for people working 30 hours or more. That includes instructional aides, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, coaches and possibly substitute teachers.

Shelbyville Central Schools are reportedly looking at cutting 100 positions, but no one was available Friday to talk about specifics.

The president of the Indiana State Teachers Association is critical of districts perceived trying to side-step the mandate.

"I think it's reprehensible that they would consider doing that," said Nate Schnellenberger, who thinks the cuts harm some of the lowest wage earners.

"What do you say to school districts that say 'We don't have the funds. We're trying to educate our students'?" Schnellenberger said. "This is a new law, it's big. It's comprehensive. And it's going to take some time to work through and figure out."

Schnellenberger says struggling districts can learn from those ahead of the curve, like Warren Township.

"Our employees are important," said Mary Rehlander, the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources for Warren Township where the district offers healthcare to groups working 30 hours or more.

"Our instructional assistants are offered insurance, our bus drivers are offered insurance. The only group that we will have more conversation about would be our substitute teachers (and) our coaches," said Rehlander, a 30-year educator.

She says it's likely the district will provide options for subs and coaches too. It's her belief that taking care of support staff, ultimately means taking care of the children.

Schnellenberger also says lawmakers need to spend some of the state's $1.2 billion dollar surplus to help schools balance their budgets in these situations.

He says it's time for parents to lobby lawmakers to seek those funds.