TPSD extends Wellness Center benefit

Tupelo School District LogoBy Chris Kieffer

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo School District employees will continue to have a free membership to North Mississippi Medical Center’s Wellness Center.

The district’s School Board agreed Tuesday to enter a three-year contract with the NMMC-Wellness Center to provide the benefit to all employees covered by the district’s health insurance. That includes educators, full-time staff and bus drivers.

Those employees would receive free membership to the gym. They would need to pay a one-time $50 assessment fee when they join or when their membership has gone inactive for several months. It will cost the school district $95,445 annually.

The benefit was initially available this past year, after the district reached an agreement with the Wellness Center in October 2012.

“It is like getting a pay raise,” said Tupelo High School history teacher Jeramy Turner, who spoke in favor of the benefit during the Board meeting. “…We know that they don’t have the extra money to give us all pay raises, but at least they are looking at other ways. Dr. Loden has really shown that the faculty and staff are appreciated, and this is probably one of the most valuable things they’ve done.”

Turner has lost 202 pounds since weighing 375 pounds in May 2012. He joined the Wellness Center last November, as soon as the benefit became available, and works out nearly every day, often twice a day, he said.

“I had no more excuses,” he said. “It wasn’t that I can’t afford it or I can’t make it. I decided I was going to make it work.”

Superintendent Gearl Loden said having healthy employees is important. He also noted that the benefit pays for itself in savings. Last year, the district saved $200,000 in workman’s compensation premiums, compared to its high-water mark from about five years earlier, said Human Resources Director Jim Turner.

“You would hope if teachers are healthy and students are healthy, it will increase learning,” Loden said. “Being healthy will also help you have a better quality of life away from school.”

The benefit also is a recruiting tool, Jim Turner said. Thus far, 385 employees have taken advantage of the membership. That is 37 percent of the 1,029 eligible employees.

“I have heard comments of people being recruited say that it is a benefit that they are not aware of other districts offering,” he said.

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com