Providing health insurance for South Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative para educators is challenging the organization.

Part of the Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide health insurance for employees working 30 hours or more, said Andy Ewing, SCKSEC executive director.

The SCKSEC para educators meet that criteria and with over 300 on the SCKSEC staff it will require a large investment to meet the insurance requirement.

"As a cooperative providing health insurance is a good thing. We want to support all our employees out there and some employees have no safety net whatsoever," Ewing said.

Para employees work a nine-month period and work less than 40 hours a week. About 100 para educators are already covered through their spouses insurance and would not need the insurance but the rest would need to be covered.

"We expect from 150 to 200 would take advantage of health insurance if it were available to them," Ewing said.

Cost of insurance for each para educator would be about $5,000. With a possible 200 to cover, SCKSEC is looking at an additional $1 million each year they provide insurance, Ewing said.

Meeting that financial obligation will require SCKSEC to look at options to reduce costs. One option under consideration is a reduction in staff. However, SCKSEC experiences a lot of turnover among the para educators, about a third of their personnel a year, so SCKSEC is going to use that change over to reduce the impact of any personnel cuts.

"We have retirements and resignation. We will make most of our personnel changes through attrition," Ewing said. "Any reduction in force will be very minimum."

Whatever happens, Ewing said he was working with the superintendents of each district and targeting expenditures where they can draw down and have the smallest impact on the students.

Also to help meet insurance funding, SCKSEC is looking to reduce expenditures wherever possible and at the same time continue to provide full services to the students in the districts.

"Making sure children have services is our bottom line," Ewing said.

Cost sharing with the current health provider and asking employees to cover a percentage of the cost are under consideration.

An employee can be asked to cover 9.5 percent of their adjusted gross wages to help cover health insurance.

Under current law, employers have to cover a minimum of 60 percent of the employee's health insurance. Another option on the table would be SCKSEC covering 95 percent of the cost and the employees covering five percent.

Whatever action SCKSEC takes will be well in advance of the time the required insurance goes into effect on July 1, 2014 that is the start of fiscal year 2015.

In the meantime, SCKSEC will tighten their belts. They have communicated with their staff and let them know they were facing the challenge to get health insurance for all staff.

Ewing said SCKSEC was acting early and it is not an emergency situation. They didn't want to create a big stir but wanted to do right by everybody throughout the process and meet all student needs.

The SCKSEC provides services for 15 school districts in eight counties over 8,500 square miles.