The Ketchikan School District’s employee health insurance pool is about a million dollars in the red, following some big claims the last few years.

The district self-insures, with the district and employees contributing to a pool that pays for health care expenses. At Wednesday’s School Board meeting, Board Member Susan Pickrell questioned how the program ended up with a deficit, when it used to have a healthy reserve.

Superintendent Robert Boyle said the pool was depleted through several years of heavy claims.

Pickrell asked who manages the program. District Business Manager Matthew Groves said that, as long as there’s a reserve above $400,000, it’s run by a committee of various union members.

“They had decision making control over essentially what the benefits are and what the premiums would be,” he said. “And then when it dropped below in the fall of 2009, I believe is when we really started dropping, it became administrative control, and then we really started taking action on it the following fall, significantly increasing premiums and reducing benefits. And it’s taken this long to really see an impact.”

Groves said the insurance committee’s makeup and responsibilities are spelled out in Board Policy. Pickrell said it doesn’t appear to be working.

“I guess when you’re one million dollars in the hole, something went wrong somewhere and perhaps we need to look at board policy of who is appointed to that committee and what those rights are,” she said. “When I was on the board (previously), that was one thing that was really critical, was that reserve balance. I know that there was a good reserve balance in there, certainly prior to 2009. To me that’s a concern.”

Boyle agreed it’s a concern, but said now that union contract negotiations are done, the district can focus more on rebuilding the pool. He said premiums went up, benefits went down and the district agreed to contribute more.

Pickrell suggested that the board talk more about the issue during a strategic planning session.

Also on Wednesday, the board approved hiring four new teachers, and a new pay scale for non-represented employees. The pay scale will provide a 1-percent raise this year; and increases of $1,100 next year, and $1,400 in 2014.

The board also approved a new contract with district administrators . The contract includes a redesigned salary schedule, plus a $1,100 increase per level in 2013, and $1,400 in 2014.