Outgoing Marion-Florence school superintendent Lee Leiker got an early going-away gift from board of education members in March: District-paid monthly health insurance premium payments until he turns 65 or obtains other coverage.
If Leiker, 54, continues with the district’s health plan until 65, USD 408 will have paid more than $60,000 for the coverage at the current monthly individual rate of $470.
Board president Jeremiah Lange said the move was initiated by the board as a gesture of appreciation for what Leiker has done for the district in 13 years as superintendent.
“He was pretty surprised,” Lange said. “We’ve had patrons throughout the district ask us how we’re going to thank Lee for what he’s done, and that’s one way we can do that.”
The proposed action was not on the March board agenda, but passed after the board met in executive session.
“I was overwhelmed with appreciation; I wasn’t expecting it,” Leiker said.
Lange acknowledged that the board didn’t discuss a possible total amount for the complete benefit.
“Even that’s unpredictable,” Lange said.
Lange and Leiker both mentioned that other district employees have received partial payments for continuing health coverage after leaving the district, with the balance of each payment covered by those individuals.
Roger Schwab, Phoebe Janzen, and Marj Sandberg are former employees who remain under the district’s health insurance plan with portions of their monthly premiums paid by the district, board clerk Kristi Mercer said.
Early retirement incentives have been offered by the district as a way to save money by reducing staff costs.
According to board minutes, Schwab elected to take an early retirement incentive offered by the district in 2014 that included $200 per month for continuing health insurance. Mercer said Schwab pays the additional $270 every month.
Leiker’s resignation, submitted in November and effective at the end of June, was not linked to any district incentives to lower costs, although the district would save money by paying a lower salary to his replacement.
Paying post-retirement health insurance benefits isn’t standard practice for outgoing superintendents. A salary and benefits survey released in February by AASA, The School Superintendent’s Association, showed that just 1 in 4 superintendents have post-retirement health insurance paid for.
Since Leiker’s health coverage through the district would cease if he should obtain other coverage, it’s impossible to predict how much the district might actually pay for the perk.
Leiker will take advantage of the benefit beginning in July, as he said he has yet to identify what his next professional step will be.
“I’m busy trying to finish this one well,” he said. “If I do something that provides health insurance, then certainly the district wouldn’t cover that any more.”
Lange said the board is confident that Leiker’s benefit won’t be detrimental to the district over the long haul.
“One of the things he’s proven time and again is that he’s not going to put the district in a position where it’s going to be hurt,” Lange said. “He’s got such a heart for the district, even in retirement.”