Belgrade teachers and school officials will go to mediation Tuesday evening in an attempt to reach a contract settlement after a year of being at loggerheads.
The two sides have been at odds over pay and benefits and the issue went to mediation at the request of the Belgrade School Board after talks broke down in February. Tuesday marks the third time a state mediator has been called upon to help seek a resolution.
The current deal on the table offered by school officials is a 1.5 percent pay hike this year and 1 percent for next year, according to school district records. Teachers are looking for a 2 percent hike this year and 1.5 percent next year, according to Belgrade Education Association officials, the union that represents local teachers.
By including teachers’ pay scale in the formula, trustees have said the increase amounts to 3.6 percent for the current year and a 2.5 percent raise for next year.
Teachers are paid according to a formula that accounts for their experience and education, better known as “steps and lanes.” By taking additional classes or earning advanced degrees, teachers can change lanes. Each year of teaching earns educators an additional step.
Each lane has a specific number of steps and teachers earn more pay as they move along the scale, but eventually all lanes end and pay is capped.
About 128 teachers will automatically receive an annual increase this year, while around 52 teachers are frozen in the pay scale for whatever reason, according to school records. Next year, an automatic increase will apply to 121 teachers while 59 will be frozen in the pay schedule.
Union officials have said using steps and lanes in contract talks is not appropriate because as some teachers’ pay is frozen.
“A raise to me is when everybody gets the same amount,” BEA president Joe Rossman said last month. “Some are getting more than 1.5 percent, but not everybody.”
The sticking point, according to union representatives, is rising insurance premiums. The union is seeking a 15 percent premium hike to be paid by the district. In the past two years, employee contributions have grown about 35 percent and are expected to rise another 33 percent next year. The problem, union representatives said, is the district has not increased its contribution in five years.
Trustees have said the district has experienced two back-to-back years of failed mill levies and stagnant enrollment numbers, which have caused budget shortfalls. Officials are contemplating budged cuts as a result.
MEA-MFT, a Helena-based teachers’ union, is asking teachers to protest before the meeting Tuesday, Belgrade High School English teacher Emily Hoogestraat said in an e-mail sent to union members and others Friday.
“The folks in Helena said they wanted to see us picket before the mediation meeting on Tuesday,” she wrote. “I know it’s short notice, but if our kids can rally behind something in just three days; surely we can do the same.”
The planned picket is to take place on the corner of Jackrabbit Lane and Main Street at 4:15 p.m., Tuesday.
The mediation gets underway at 6 p.m., at the School District administration building, 312 N. Weaver Street.