Protecting themselves against property damage and liability for death or injury in school accidents - including fire - is a costly budget item for schools.

Thirty-nine districts pay a total of $1.3 million for insurance to protect themselves against property loss and about twice again that much to give them liability protection against injury or loss of life. Weber District is the only one insured through a commercial carrier. All others subscribe to the state's risk management program.While the potential for loss in schools is probably no greater than in other state buildings, the state has a great interest in seeing that school structures get regular inspections and minimize risks, said Alan Edwards, state risk manager.

"We've given them financial incentives to do inspections and to comply with codes," said Edwards. His office received additional funding from the Legislature this year to hire more staff to conduct inspections.

Even so, the risk management office depends on districts to do the bulk of their inspections themselves, he said. State inspectors do spot checks and follow through on identified problems.

Edwards is sympathetic to the districts' need for more money to address serious code violations that require large expenditures.

"Some things require funding," he said. State insurers want to be assured, however, that the districts are doing all they can to reduce fire risks.

"If it only costs a little money, we want immediate compliance. We want to know if it's in process, how it's prioritized."

Edwards did not give dollar amounts, but he said some districts are paying more for insurance because they don't comply with risk management recommendations.

"No one is a really big problem. Most have been very cooperative," he said, "but some haven't received full credit. The impression we have is that the state fire marshal is very strict with schools and is putting pressure on them to get the job done."

Arson is a bigger problem in schools than most state-owned buildings, Edwards said - a good reason to put greater emphasis on alarm systems and early-intervention strategies such as sprinklers.

"We are in the process of creating more diversity (in premium rates) based on the presence of alarms, sprinkling systems, how far the buildings are from a fire department and other factors," he said.

Urban schools tend to have more problems with vandalism and arson, but rural schools are farther from firefighting units, he said.

"Our experience doesn't show that either rural or urban schools are any worse from a fire standpoint."

The risk management office conducts periodic seminars for school personnel and requires an annual report from every school. Over the years, the number of problems has consistently declined, Edwards said, probably because of the education effort.

"By and large, our experience is that they (the schools) are doing a good job with what they've got. I'm sure there are more problems out there, but we're trying to narrow the field even more."

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Fire-code violations

Most common school fire-code violations found by the state fire marshal:

-Fire doors wedged open, preventing fire separation.

-Fire doors not maintained and with broken closers, latches or door harware. Fire doors must be automatic-closing and latching.

-Exit signs unlighted or broken. Lighted exit signs are required in all exits and corridors.

-Rooms or areas built without the proper number or placement of exits.

-Emergency lighting for escape purposes not in working condition. Battery packs are bad or bulbs burnt out.

-Storage and obstruction in corridors and exit routes.

-Storage of combustible materials in boiler and fan rooms, or excessive storage of combustibles in other areas of the building. Also, flammable or combustible liquides not kept in required special cabinets.

-Fire sprinkler systems not tested yearly as required. Also, other special fire-protection systems such as roll-down doors, fire curtains and stage vents not tested and maintained.

-Extension cords and other electrical hazards are found in nearly every school. Also, storage in front of electrical panels.

-Paint booths in shops not maintained in good working order.

-Locking and chaining of exit doors. This is a continual problem, but not as common as in the past.