Lower-than-expected health insurance costs could reduce school budget deficit

Jun 11, 2024

LAKEVILLE — The Freetown-Lakeville School District identified an overestimate of budgeted health insurance costs that will significantly reduce an overall budget deficit that has ignited much debate. 

At the Freetown-Lakeville School Committee’s Wednesday, June 5 meeting, the district’s new Director of Finance Operations Jack Higgins reported findings that could result in a $250,000 decrease to the budget shortfall. 

The school district confirmed a nearly $800,000 shortfall in its 2025 budget at the beginning of May.

After a thorough analysis of the district’s 2025 budget, Higgins reported that health insurance rates were budgeted at 8% and 10% for current employees of the district and retirees. But the actual rates were significantly lower, he said. 

The actual percent increase for current employees and retirees on a BlueCross Blue Shield health insurance plan was 4.38%. The difference between the budgeted amount for health insurance costs and the cost of the actual rates was approximately $250,000, Higgins stated.

Whether this money will be used to reduced the budget deficit has not yet been decided, Higgins has confirmed. 

Superintendent Alan Strauss also reported that the district had found potential areas where cuts could be made that would free up $240,000 in next year’s budget. Strauss specified that these reductions “are not impacting staff.” These would include cuts in spending on technology items next year and in the area of facilities. 

Putting a freeze on the capital master planning process and not taking on some new hires were other potential areas for reduction, said Strauss. 

Strauss said he had already agreed to reduce his own salary next year by $7,500. 

On account of the lower-than-expected health insurance rates, these reductions and the use of residual funds to make prepayments on next year’s expenses, Higgins said he feels “confident” that the district will be able to operate under the budgeted $46,550,959 in 2025. 

Still, he reiterated the concern that has been expressed by many that 2026 would be a challenge. But making reductions now will soften the impact of spending cuts in 2026, he said.