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Fayette school board passes tentative budget it says is first to raise teacher starting pay over $50,000

Fayette County Public Schools

Fayette school leaders have signed off on a tentative budget the school system describes as the first in Kentucky to set starting teacher pay over $50,000.

In addition to the $50,000 starting pay for educators, the plan provides for a minimum 4% raise for contracted staff. Hourly rates will be $16.17 or higher, according to the district.

While there appeared to be agreement on the need during Monday night's meeting, board member Tom Jones kicked off a round of debate revolving around increasing recurring spending, the addition of some district level staff, and other expenditures he claimed he wasn’t briefed on.

"There's expenses in here that just have popped up, that were not part of the budget retreat, that were not part of any of our conversations," Jones said, pressing budget presenters and Superintendent Demetrus Liggins for explanations of specific line items.

Liggins countered that the budget reflects hundreds of hours of work to reflect the top needs identified by the school board. He said it’s a balanced plan that's "truly based off of data, studies, and really meeting the goals and priorities set by this board body."

Despite the reassurances Jones continued to worry aloud about the spending, including new district-level positions, which he called "appalling" at a time when "we are not moving forward at all with the improvement with reading and math."

In response, school board chair Tyler Murphy responded, "It's important to understand that the total fiscal amount in this new budget of new district-level personnel is .0034% of the entire budget, and that includes transfers."

The budget includes millions for direct services, utilities, supplies, and legal fees. That's in addition to hundreds of thousands for band and orchestra instruments, school buses, and more preschool rooms, among other priorities.

The board ultimately voted 4-1 to approve the tentative $677 million budget.

Both gubernatorial candidates Andy Beshear and Daniel Cameron have pledged to push through state-level raises for teachers — with Beshear stressing the amount, at least 5%, and Cameron saying in his first budget would ensure no teacher’s salary is below the new starting pay benchmark.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.