PORTAGE | Just about two years ago Portage Township Schools found itself in a bind.
Worker's compensation insurance claims had climbed so high that its insurer told it the company was going to drop the school district. Searching for a new insurance company, the district found it was out of luck.
Instead, officials decided to enter the world of self-insurance, hire an administrator for the insurance program and embark on a program to improve employee safety and lower the number of claims and costs to the district — and taxpayers.
After 12 months on the program, the district saw claims drop from $1.1 million to just under $214,000. So far, five months into the next fiscal year with the plan, claims are at just under $110,000.
Not only have fewer claims been filed, said Superintendent Tom Taylor, but the average cost for each claim has dropped from slightly more than $12,000 to about $4,000, indicating the severity of injuries from accidents also has declined.
The money saved, said Superintendent E. Ric Frataccia, stays in the district's general fund.
"It gives me a greater chance to say yes to things," said Frataccia, who said at a recent School Board meeting that the saving would equal a 2 percent pay increase for district employees.
The board approved a contract with JWF Specialty Co. of Indianapolis to act as the third-party administrator for workman's compensation. JWF assigned Jim Krouse as the district's consultant.
The first thing that happened, said Taylor, was development of a districtwide safety team, which met monthly. Previously, the district only had a safety team which met to review accident reports.
That safety team, which contained representatives of every employee group, developed an action plan.
Last year, they took the idea and developed site-based safety teams for each building. Their job, said Taylor, was to look at accidents, discuss what happened, why it happened and what actions need to be taken to avoid it from happening again.
"They problem-solve in their own building," said Taylor.
The districtwide team came up with a four-step plan to improve safety, said Taylor.
The first step was awareness and education. They posted posters at every location reminding employees to be safe. Bulletin boards were established, providing information from safety posters to reports to articles on safety. Soon the information also will be posted on the school's website as a reminder.
Most of the information, said Taylor, is simple, common-sense advice — from how to lift properly to walking on an icy parking lot and sidewalk — that people tend to forget when they are in a hurry.
Secondly, the team initiated training, targeting specific training for specific employee groups. They are also training some personnel in accident investigation and looking to secure a series of online videos about a variety of safety topics.
The third part of the plan is accountability, said Taylor, including a new employee safety handbook which contains a series of best practices concerning various issues. The handbook has yet to be approved by the School Board. It will, said Taylor, also include discipline measures for employees who neglect safety rules.
Finally, something they haven't "done real well" yet, but need to improve, is recognizing those who have done well, said Taylor, such as Kyle Elementary School, which was accident-free last year.
Taylor said the initiative has been low cost for the financial return to the district. So far about $1,000 has been spent on posters and the video series would cost about $5,000.