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August 26, 2019 Roger White

A 45-year anniversary Q&A with TASB Associate Executive Director for Risk Management Services

Editor’s note: This year, the TASB Risk Management Fund celebrates 45 years of providing risk solutions to the school districts of Texas. Texas Lone Star Managing Editor Roger White sat down with Dubravka Romano, TASB associate executive director for Risk Management Services, to talk about the Fund’s beginnings, its history, and what the future holds with regard to the risk management landscape for Texas school districts.

How and when did the TASB Risk Management Fund come about?

Romano: TASB’s risk management programs began with the creation of the TASB Workers’ Compensation Self-Insurance Fund (WCSIF) in 1974 in response to the Legislature’s mandate during the 1973 session that local governments (i.e., cities, school districts, counties, etc.) start offering workers’ compensation (WC) coverage to their employees. That legislation provided three ways local governments could meet the new requirement—by purchasing a commercial insurance policy, by self-insuring, or by coming together to collectively self-insure and create a “joint insurance fund.”

At the time, there wasn’t much interest by the commercial insurance marketplace to cover public entities, so under the leadership of then-TASB President and noted Austin insurance attorney Will Davis, TASB led the effort to create one of these new joint insurance funds for its members. The TASB WCSIF began operations on January 4, 1974, with Houston ISD signing on as the very first member, and within months it had more than 700 members.

Based on the success of the WCSIF, TASB members established the TASB Employee Benefits Joint Account in 1976, followed by the TASB Unemployment Compensation Group Account in 1977 and the TASB Property/Casualty Joint Account in 1981.

How has the program evolved over the years?

Romano: Over the years, the Fund has evolved by adding and dropping coverages and services as Fund member needs evolved. For example, the Employee Benefits program was discontinued after the Legislature created TRS Active Care. But in recognition of new and emerging risks, the Fund has added cyber and privacy coverage and is adding crisis events coverage this year.

The Fund is one of the oldest and largest risk pools in the country. Depending on whether the ranking is done by contribution volume or membership, the Fund typically ranks as one of the top five in the nation.

What are some historic events and milestones of the Fund and its members?

Romano: The four original risk pools operated as four separate and distinct entities, providing workers’ compensation, employee benefits, unemployment compensation (UC), and property/casualty coverage to participating TASB members until April 1997, when the four pools merged to form the TASB Risk Management Fund, a multi-line program offering coverage and service to TASB members. The merger was a very innovative and bold move, having never been done before, and it turned out to be enormously successful, leveraging the strength of each of the programs for the benefit of all Fund members.

When the pools first started operating, most of the administrative work was outsourced to third-party vendors. Starting in 1986, the claims handling for the Employee Benefits Joint Account was brought in-house, followed by underwriting, loss prevention, and other administrative services over the next few years. Finally, in probably the largest move, workers’ compensation claims administration was brought in-house on September 1, 1995, adding over 100 employees to TASB.

In years since, major system conversions and space moves have all been part of the Fund’s growth. From a claims perspective, some of the notable milestones were the first “million-dollar baby” claim the Fund paid in the early 1990s, the Hurricane Rita claim, an $11 million hail claim for a single district, and Hurricane Harvey claims. All presented their own challenges, but, more importantly, were opportunities to be of service to Fund members.

What do you see as the most important factors for the Fund to focus on now and in the future with regard to risk management in schools? What are some of the key risk management issues facing districts today and in the future?

Romano: In addition to the issues discussed in the answers above, we are focusing on the following:

  1. The new weather patterns in the state are proving problematic for school district facilities, specifically the kinds of roofs districts tend to put on buildings. We are working to educate districts on alternatives.
  2. Technology security continues to be a challenge for school districts as hackers continue to threaten and exploit weaknesses in district networks. Recently, several districts fell victim to e-crimes, in which hundreds of thousands of dollars were unknowingly transferred to fake bank accounts.
  3. The legal landscape for school districts is ever-evolving. Whether it be religious freedom, freedom of expression, bullying, equal access, gender identity, or other issues, school districts tend to draw litigation that hits at the cultural issues in our state and nation.
  4. Telemedicine is an effective way to deliver medical care, especially to employees located in areas of the state where medical care is not easily available. We are currently conducting a pilot, which is proving to be very successful.

Talk a bit, if you would, about staff expertise in meeting member needs. How has that changed over the years? Do you see that evolving in the future?

Romano: TASB has been voted “A Best Place to Work” in Central Texas for the last eight out of nine years. That gives us the ability to attract and retain top talent. The fundamentals of what we look for when we hire haven’t changed. We look for skilled professionals with a strong service orientation. What has changed are the skills we look for. Today, the TASB professional must not only be proficient in underwriting or claims/loss prevention but also be technologically savvy, have strong problem-solving abilities that extend beyond their own job, and be able to collaborate and understand data and the role it plays in all our jobs. Our professionals also must have a passion for public education and a commitment to helping our members.

View the full article in the  May 2019 edition of Texas Lone Star magazine, published by the Texas Association of School Boards.

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