State Superintendent of Schools
Local boards of education are not authorized under current law to contract for health insurance with entities other than the State Personnel Board.
You have requested an official opinion as to whether local boards of education may withdraw from the health insurance plan offered by the State Personnel Board and obtain health insurance for teachers and other employees elsewhere. It is my official opinion that local boards of education are not authorized under current law to contract for health insurance with entities other than the State Personnel Board.
In 1975, the General Assembly authorized the State Personnel Board to provide a health insurance plan for public school teachers. 1975 Ga. Laws 37. The legislation specifically authorized local school boards to contract with the State Personnel Board to provide coverage for their teachers and other employees. In setting up the state-wide plan, however, the legislature also provided that "[l]ocal school boards shall have the option to determine whether or not the teachers within their respective systems shall be covered under the provisions of [State Personnel Board plan]." Id. at 43. See former Ga. Code Ann. § 32-4313(a); 1981 Op. Att'y Gen. 81-106.
In 1986, the General Assembly amended the laws governing health insurance coverage for public school teachers with the specific intent to, among other things, "eliminate the authority for local employers to determine whether their teachers or employees shall be covered under certain health insurance plans." 1986 Ga. Laws 291, 292. In addition, while the current law authorizes the State Personnel Board to contract with local employers and local employers to contract with the State Personnel Board, O.C.G.A. § 20-2-895, it does not expressly authorize local employers to contract for health insurance coverage from entities other than the State Personnel Board.
While local boards of education have constitutional authority to manage and control their local school system and to establish and maintain schools within their jurisdiction, Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. V, Paras. I and II, they are subject to regulation by statute. See Bedingfield v. Parkerson, 212 Ga. 654, 656 (1956). In this instance, the General Assembly specifically authorized health insurance contracts with the State Personnel Board, but failed to provide any statutory scheme or specific authority for the local school systems to contract with private entities for health insurance. The General Assembly has established an extensive system of regulation for the state-wide health insurance plans, but there are no similar restrictions which would apply if a local board contracted directly with another insurer. Thus, if local boards could obtain coverage from entities other than the State Personnel Board, it would be possible for teachers to have more or fewer health benefits depending on which school system employed them. That result would be at odds with an otherwise comprehensive effort to equalize benefits for teachers statewide, such as minimum salary levels, O.C.G.A. § 20-2-212, statewide standards for disciplinary due process, O.C.G.A. § 20-2-942, and a statewide retirement system, O.C.G.A. § 47-3-1 et seq.
The cardinal rule in interpreting statutes is to ascertain the intention of the General Assembly and give the statute that construction which will effectuate legislative intent. Hollowell v. Jove, 247 Ga. 678, 681 (1981). The clear intent of the General Assembly as expressed in the 1986 Act, as well as the lack of express authority for the local boards to contract elsewhere, compels the conclusion that local boards of education may only contract for employee health insurance benefits with the State Personnel Board.
For the reasons set forth above, it is my official opinion that local boards of education are not authorized under current law to contract for health insurance with entities other than the State Personnel Board.
KATHRYN L. ALLEN
Senior Assistant Attorney General