Fayette school budget includes student insurance, raise for new teachers

Fayette County Public Schools plan to provide free accident insurance for all students starting next fall and to raise starting pay for teachers to $40,000 per year.

Those proposals — firsts for the district — are contained in the Fayette schools' 2011-12 tentative budget, which the board of education will consider at its May 23 meeting. The district's budget for 2011-12 won't be acted on until late summer.

Superintendent Stu Silberman said Wednesday the district probably will take the full, state allowed 4-percent increase in property tax revenue for 2011-12. But that won't be certain until the state certifies Fayette County property valuations for the year, which won't happen until August.

Kentucky allows the 4-percent increase annually to help schools cover rising operating costs.

Last year, Silberman recommended the Fayette schools take no increase, citing the economic strains many Lexington families were facing. Soon after, the state cut basic funding for the district by about $2 million.

"We couldn't go back and get the increase," he said. "Once you don't take it, it's gone forever."

The schools' tentative budget projects expenditures of an estimated $384.5 million.

Under the proposed accident insurance plan, every Fayette County Public Schools student would be covered for mishaps at school and during after-school extracurricular activities. That will cost the school district about $270,000, with no charge to families.

The Kentucky School Boards' Association estimates that about half of Kentucky's 174 public school districts provide such coverage. This is the first time Fayette County has done so.

"We would have liked to do it before, and this year we have the funding to do it," Silberman said. "It's a good service for our families."

In the past, the district offered students' families the option of buying accident insurance. But Silberman said few families bought it, assuming students were covered under the district's insurance. They were not, he said.

"If a kid falls and gets hurt on the playground, people automatically think that we have insurance for that," Silberman explained. "We don't have coverage for that. We do have liability coverage."

The new plan is intended to close that gap. Silberman noted that for a student who is covered by his or her family's own primary insurance, the new school plan would cover deductibles for any injuries at school.

Student athletes were required to buy coverage but will be covered under this new insurance.

As recently as about 2000, the Fayette County Education Association was urging the school system to raise starting teacher salaries to $30,000. That finally happened in 2005. Starting pay would go to $40,000 if the tentative budget is approved.

"All of the principals and hiring managers I've talked to are really happy to see it happen," Silberman said. "It's a real benchmark for us that's going to be a huge recruiting tool in helping us attract top-flight new teachers in the future."

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