CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Board of Risk and Insurance Management is raising annual premiums for liability insurance on county school systems by more than 100% creating concern among small county BOE members about where they’ll get the money to cover the increase.
BRIM says it needs more
State Department of Administration Secretary Mark Scott said the problem has been building in recent years with BRIM’s contracted insurance carriers having to pay out millions connected to several civil lawsuits filed against school boards in classroom physical abuse cases.
“When you have so many claims going in and you have limited premiums coming in as well, the only alternative is to raise rates,” Scott said.
The way BRIM operates is it puts all 55 county school boards in an insurance pool so a premium increase includes all of them.
“Smaller counties are going to have a hard time absorbing this,” Scott admitted during an appearance last week on MetroNews “Talkline.”
Roane County quandary
Roane County BOE President Jeff Mace tells MetroNews the projected increase included in a Feb. 6 letter from BRIM was “staggering.”
“It’s a projected increase of 150 to 225%. We currently pay an annual premium of $150,000 and now it’s going to run to a half million dollars for us,” Mace said.
He said Roane County works hard in minding its budget.
“We’re very budget sensitive,” he said. “Many of our administrators have dual functions. We have a number of shared services with other counties including food services. We’ve already made these fiscal efficiencies to stay afloat.”
The county doesn’t have an excess levy.
Roane County School Superintendent Richard Duncan said the county’s insurance claims history is a good one with only two lawsuits in the past six years with neither having large payouts.
“We’ve seen others (other counties) have had issues but locally we haven’t had issues,” he said.
Scott is hoping the legislature approves SB 560 which would place a $1 million cap on liability cases against school boards.
“If we’re able to limit the caps of injuries, over the course of the next couple of years we’ll be able to lower those costs because we don’t have as much amount of awards going out,” Scott said.
Charleston attorney, trial lawyer lobbyist, Anthony Majestro said SB 560 makes his ‘blood boil.”
“They are going back and trying to fix mistakes they made on the backs of the victims and they shouldn’t do that,” Majestro said on “Talkline.”
Majestro said BRIM has paid out millions in abuse claims. He said a decision by BRIM to cover private schools backfired. A 2020 settlement for 29 victims abused at the Miracle Meadows boarding school in Harrison County resulted in a $52 million settlement with more to come.
There was also an undisclosed settlement that same year connected to a special education classroom abuse case in Berkeley County and there’s civil action in Kanawha County with similar special education abuse cases.
“There’s a reason BRIM is selling (settling) these cases because they can’t win these cases,” Majestro said.
Majestro said the state or county schools systems need to do a better job to stop the abuse in the first place. He said even cameras in special education classrooms haven’t stopped the abuse.
“I don’t know who is responsible for ensuring this doesn’t happen but we trust the school systems with our children, we trust the administrators and the school boards to hire competent people and watch what they do,” Majestro said.
Scott said BRIM is trying to do everything possible to mitigate the risk with school boards.
“We are trying to educate and do everything we can to keep rates low,” he said.
Majestro said there’s no evidence of BRIM doing risk management.
SB 560 may be on the Senate Judiciary Committee agenda as early as Monday.
Choices for school boards
Mace and Duncan are hoping the legislature will do a budget supplemental to help school boards with their increased BRIM bills. Scott said there is an increase in funding for BRIM in the governor’s budget but it won’t help with this situation.
“The premium increase is going to happen regardless,” he said.
If that’s the case, Roane County is staring at a $340,000 increase. Both Mace and Duncan said the county would probably have to turn to personnel cuts to come up with the money.
Mace said the county was looking forward to the passage of the Third Grade Success Act that would add teaching assistants in the lower grades to help with reading instruction. He said any additions would probably now be unlikely.
“A supplemental is the only thing that gets us through this,” Duncan said.