PORTLAND, Ore. — Developing an employee wellness program does not have to be a big budget item for school districts, said Dan Romano, treasurer and chief financial officer at West Clermont School District in Ohio.
Health insurance carriers working with a school district should have financial resources to share, Romano said on Sept. 16 during a session at the Association of School Business Officials International’s Annual Conference & Expo in Portland, Oregon. Additionally, a dominant healthcare system in a district’s community will likely have money to help with school wellness initiatives, he said.
“Use them,” Romano said. “That was the biggest thing that I saw when I went to this district — there was an abundance of resources that were being underutilized.”
Wellness programs encompass any worksite activities designed to support improved employee health, he said. They can include healthy behavior incentives, behavior change intervention programs, health coaching, fitness, nutrition and weight loss programs, and wellness challenges.
Romano shared guidance on creating these wellness programs at a time when research has found teachers and principals are twice as likely as other working adults to report job-related stress.
Tracking data for returns on investment
The benefits of district wellness programs can be many, he said, including reduced employee absences, lowered healthcare costs, and increased productivity and performance. Plus, all of this can be tracked by school administrators to make sure they're working, Romano said.
“You got a teacher in the classroom, if they’re not happy — you think those kids are going to be happy? You think their performance is going to be good?” Romano asked conference attendees.
It’s also important to encourage and track whether employees are using preventive healthcare services included in their insurance coverage, such as regular health screenings or yearly doctor’s visits, Romano said.
Getting staff invested in the program
To get employees invested in these initiatives, districts need to encourage staff to think of their own motivation to stay well. For instance, Romano said, his wellness motive is to live a long life to spend with his family.
West Clermont schools also put out an interactive newsletter each month promoting wellness programs. A short video with a guided workout is embedded in the newsletter, Romano said, along with a nutritious recipe and questions about what the wellness program should be doing and if employees are working on their wellness goals, he said. District staff then tracks those answers to determine if the program is meeting goals.
The district has gathered “wellness champions,” such as school nurses, counselors, fitness trainers and coaches to work together on a district goal surrounding these initiatives, Romano said. During this retreat for wellness champions, the group reflected on ways to reach a district goal to get 100% participation in preventive health screenings among staff.
“When those people talk, we listen and I’ll try every effort to do those suggestions,” Romano said.