Leadership change for Voorheesville School Board

VOORHEESVILLE — At its annual reorganizational meeting on July 9, the seven members of the Voorheesville Board of Education elected a new president and vice president, and welcomed a new trustee to the board. 

Cynthia Monaghan was unanimously voted president; she had previously been the board’s vice president. Taking over for Monaghan as vice president will be Jeannie McDonnell, who was also elected in a unanimous vote. Rachel Gilker, who had resoundingly defeated incumbent president Doreen Saia in May, took her seat on the board as well. 

Monaghan, a nurse practitioner, was first elected to the board in 2010. She has a daughter who will be a senior in the fall and a son who graduated from Voorheesville two years ago.

McDonnell was elected to the board in 2016. She is the finance director for a not-for-profit organization. Her twin daughters graduated in June and she also has a daughter who is a junior in college. 

On being nominated to the positions by their peers, McDonnell said it felt good “because it’s such a good board.” Monaghan as well said it felt good because the board is made up of “good people” and “great community members,” who will work as a team without “self-interest.” 

Asked if there were any projects or initiatives they’d like to take up in the new school year, McDonnell said, “We have to discuss that with the board as a whole.”


Update on prescription-drug problem 

As Voorheesville tries to move on from a difficult 2018-19 fiscal year, it appears that the district’s prescription-drug problem will again be an issue. 

This past school year, the school district’s self-funded prescription-drug plan, after years with barely any increase, saw a 35-percent spike in costs, which led to deep cuts to balance the 2019-20 school budget.

Although one recent bright spot for the district was the receipt of $100,000 in bullet aid from the state, which allowed Voorheesville to hire back Courtney O'Connor, a kindergarten teacher whom the district had to let go because of the budget cuts. The aid was secured by Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy.

During the July 9 meeting, Francis Rielly, Voorheesville’s assistant superintendent of finance and operations, said that the district ended the fiscal year, June 30, with $330,000 in its prescription-drug fund-balance reserve; the reserve had been as high as $681,000 just a few months ago. 

To start the new fiscal year, Rielly said that the district was able to move $300,000 from the end-of-fiscal-year fund balance to the prescription-drug fund-balance reserve, giving the district a total reserve of $630,000 to start the new school year. For the 2018-19 school year, Voorheesville had to pay a million dollars for prescription drugs for its employees and retirees and their families.

Reilly said that, when he met with the district’s pharmacy benefit manager recently, he was told that the $630,000 reserve should be sufficient for the new school year. 

Since 2013, interim Superintendent Mark Doody said at Monday’s meeting, the district has taken out of reserves about $900,000 to cover increased costs for prescription drug. And with what is planned to be placed in the reserve for the 2019-20 school year, he said, the prescription-drug fund-balance reserve could be nearly or completely wiped out by the end of next year. 

To begin to cover costs, the district has increased its premium payments from $125 per employee per month to $169 per employee per month, which is still well below the average monthly premiums paid by other members of the Capital Area Schools Health Insurance Consortium, a health-insurance trust made up of 19 school districts in the Capital Region. 

Doody said that the average premium paid by consortium members is $207 per employee per month, adding that some schools have premiums as high as $315 per employee per month. Already looking ahead to the 2020-21 school year, Doody said that the district needs premiums to be $207 per employee per month, which would yield an additional $390,000 to cover prescription-drug costs. But those increases have to be bargained with the district’s unions.

To generate more immediate savings, Doody suggested the increased use of CanaRx, a Canadian drug-distribution company, which sells lower cost prescription drugs to both public and private employer-provided health-care programs. 

Locally, the city of Albany as well as Schenectady and Saratoga counties offer current and former municipal employees the option to purchase lower-cost medications through CanaRx. 

In 2004, Schenectady became the first county in the state with a CanaRx program. According to the county, as of 2017, Schenectady’s overall prescription-drug costs were about 10-percent lower than they were in 2001. 

Had Schenectady not enrolled with CanaRx, then, between 2004 and 2015, to cite an example from the county, total prescription costs would have increased from about $4.2 million to about $14.8 million. Actual prescription-drug costs for Schenectady County in 2015 were about $3.3 million.

For comparison, since 2001, Voorheesville’s health-insurance costs have more than quadrupled, from about $1.2 million in 2001-02 to almost $5 million this year. 

Doody said the goal is to make staff more aware of the CanaRx option at the start of the new school year. 

The second way to generate more immediate savings, Doody said, is to move to a managed formulary prescription-drug plan, which would take 90 days to do and would have to be negotiated with the district’s bargaining units.

The seven members of the administrators’ union recently agreed to a new contract that includes an agreement for the union to enter into a managed formulary plan, which starts Oct. 1.

The district’s current prescription-drug plan has no mechanism for containing costs; whatever the price of the drug, the district has to pay it. Entering into a managed formulary plan would allow the pharmacy-benefit manager to negotiate better prices for the district. 

The managed formulary plan, Rielly told The Enterprise in April, has cost-saving restrictions — like step therapy, prior authorization, and quantity limits — that are not part of the district’s current basic formulary plan.

Step therapy — also called “fail first” — is a process where a patient would start with a less expensive, generic drug, and, if that doesn’t work, would then move up to a more-expensive brand-name drug. Prior authorization is a process where a doctor or other health-care provider has to receive advanced approval from a health plan before a specific procedure or medication can be delivered. 

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