Continuing health insurance coverage for employees on unpaid leave

by April Mabry

Q: How long can an employee on unpaid leave continue to receive health coverage through the district?

A: For districts with TRS-ActiveCare, an employee on an approved, unpaid leave absence (e.g., workers’ compensation, temporary disability, or family and medical leave) is eligible to continue his or her health coverage through the district for the maximum period specified by Teacher Retirement System (TRS) rules. The maximum period ends on the last calendar day of the sixth month following the month in which the individual is placed on leave-without-pay status. For example, an employee who goes on leave January 8 is eligible to continue coverage through the district until the end of July, which is six calendar months after February 1. Because coverage extends through the end of the calendar month, the maximum coverage period is often longer than six months.

Coverage beyond the maximum period is not allowed by TRS rules (34 TAC §41.40). When eligibility for coverage as an employee ends (e.g., at the end of the maximum period), the individual may be eligible to continue coverage under COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act). Additional information on COBRA coverage is available in the HR Library.

Employees in districts that do not participate in TRS-ActiveCare can continue coverage for the time period specified in the district’s health plan.

Responsibility for payment of premiums during leave depends on the leave designation. If the leave is paid or designated as family and medical leave (FML), the district is required to pay its portion of health benefit premiums at the same level it was before leave started. Otherwise, the employee is responsible for paying the entire premium during any unpaid leave that isn’t FML unless local policy provides otherwise.

4 keys to a smooth transition into K-12 HR

by Luz Cadena

Whether you’ve transitioned into K-12 human resources from an HR background or from within education, the following tips will help you succeed in your new role.   

1. Enhance your knowledge

As a new leader in a school district HR department, you’ll want to assess the effectiveness of practices and programs and determine whether they improve or impede HR functions. Increasing your knowledge of HR will help you make informed decisions, identify inefficiencies, and guide department functions more strategically in support of your district’s goals.   

A premier training program designed specifically for new school HR administrators is the Texas School HR Administrators Academy scheduled for October 29 and 30. Topics covered include contracts and legal issues, certification, compensation, leaves, personnel records, and more.

Mark your calendars for other HR training programs listed on the TASB HR Services website and on the Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators (TASPA) website.

If your district is not a member of TASB HR Services, make sure to sign up. Members receive access to an online library of reference information, model forms, handbooks, job descriptions, and survey data via DataCentral. DataCentral provides access to survey data and the ability to create custom benchmarking reports on pay, benefits, policies, and practices. Other membership benefits include specialized training, consulting, and support services.

2. Expand your professional network and social media groups

Networking offers opportunities for making new connections with other HR professionals to build your knowledge base by sharing resources and best practices.  

Join professional associations, such as TASPA, whose membership base consists of Texas public school human resources administrators and support staff. They assist HR administrators by providing tools and strategies to support district HR functions. They also can provide information about other local, state, and regional networking opportunities.

Consider joining other professional HR associations like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

3. Become familiar with all relevant policies and laws

Study the “D-Personnel” section of your district’s personnel policies and refer to it often. Knowing and enforcing your local personnel policies is an important part of your new role.

Bookmark helpful online resources for quick reference, such as:

4. Leverage technology

The role and importance of technology in human resources has increased greatly. HR technologies like a Human Resources Information System (HRIS) aid in the management of information needed for effective decision-making and increased efficiency. Workflow technology applications help streamline time-consuming and repetitive processes. Dashboards help HR leaders turn HR information into meaningful and sophisticated analytic tools. Used effectively, technology systems contribute to improved efficiencies, help you be better informed, and turn data into metrics so you can communicate the value of HR more accurately.    

Given the payroll costs, including the fact compensation and benefits account for the largest portion (80 percent) of a school district’s operating budget, your role of HR as a strategic partner is essential to achieving your district’s strategy and goals. These resources serve as a foundation and will help you succeed in your new role.  

Student loan solutions support recruitment and retention

by TASB HR Services Staff

In 2016, the average student loan debt owed by recent college graduates was $37,700.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, when adjusting for inflation, average total student loan debt has increased by an alarming 49 percent over the last 10 years. This debt can feel paralyzing to those in education where salaries generally are lower than those in the private sector.

As student debt grows, student loan payments will consume an increasing share of teachers’ discretionary income. Often times career advancement usually is tied to obtaining an advanced degree teachers must finance on their own. Nearly 80 percent of districts in Texas pay more money to teachers with master’s degree, according to the 2017–2018 TASB Salary Survey, and master’s degrees are required for most higher-level jobs in the educator career path.

There are several loan repayment and forgiveness programs designed to encourage college graduates to pursue careers in teaching. Approximately 32 million Americans could qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, yet only 500,000 are currently taking advantage of these programs.

The PSLF program forgives the remaining balance on Direct Loans after teachers make 120 qualifying monthly payments. According to the Federal Student Aid website, a qualifying monthly payment is made:

  • after October 1, 2007

  • under a qualifying repayment plan

  • for the full amount due as shown on the bill

  • no later than 15 days after the due date

  • while the employee is working full-time for a qualifying employer

To enroll in the program, employees must complete and submit the Employment Certification for Public Service Loan Forgiveness form (Employment Certification form) annually or when they change employers. District HR staff must certify the teacher’s employment before the teacher can mail or fax it in to the U.S. Department of Education for review. 

Helping employees navigate this program could be invaluable for recruitment and retention. This program isn’t exclusive to teachers, either. Any school district employee who works at least 30 hours per week could qualify for the program. Even parents who have taken out loans for their children’s education could qualify.

With so many teachers burdened by student loan debt, it’s important for district HR staff to make sure its employees are aware of this program. Periodically sending out an email or posting reminders on the district intranet with brief instructions on how to enroll in the program is a great way to help out staff and effectively reduce some of the turnover caused by financial distress.

HR Extras

HR manager named a top-5 job for 2018

A study conducted by Glassdoor ranked human resources manager as the fifth best job in the country in 2018, up from No. 6 last year.

The rankings were based on earning potential, number of job openings, and career opportunity ratings. There are 4,458 job openings for human resources managers, with a median base salary of $85,000 per year. The position reported a 3.9/5 job satisfaction rating and a 4.5/5 overall job score.

Also on the list were compliance manager, ranked as the 11th best job (up an impressive 14 spots from last year), corporate recruiter, ranked No. 23, and HR generalist, coming in at No. 50.

To view the full list, click here.

Texas cities ranked among best places to find a job

A recent report from WalletHub, a personal finance website, found that Texas is the place to look for those seeking employment.

Analysts from the organization compared 150 of the most populated cities across 23 key metrics of job market strength, including job opportunities, employment growth, and median annual income, to find the best and worst places to work in the country.

Surprisingly, 14 of the 16 Texas cities in the report moved down in the rankings, many by double digits. Austin and Irving were the only two cities that moved up.

Here’s where Texas cities ranked on the list (the number in parentheses is what the city was ranked last year):

  • No. 6 Plano (4)
  • No. 11 Austin (22)
  • No. 23 Irving (37)
  • No. 38 Grand Prairie (26)
  • No. 39 Amarillo (34)
  • No. 48 Garland (17)
  • No. 49 Dallas (21)
  • No. 59 San Antonio (58)
  • No. 79 Lubbock (50)
  • No. 83 Arlington (69)
  • No. 87 Fort Worth (77)
  • No. 107 El Paso (90)
  • No. 120 Houston (88)
  • No. 139 Corpus Christi (85)
  • No. 146 Laredo (87)
  • No. 171 Brownsville (128)

To view the full list, click here.