Belgrade teachers voted down a contract at the end of the school year leaving union representatives and district officials to hash out a new agreement.
Four members of the Belgrade Educators Association met with three Belgrade School Board members and three administrators Tuesday to find common ground. Both sides have been talking since early spring. Numerous language changes were made in the agreement that addressed maternity leave, parental leave and family medical leave along with a $50 hike toward health care for teachers among other smaller changes.
The district proposed a .25 percent raise to the base pay for teachers along with two one-time stipends totaling $400, though not all educators would get the total amount. Teachers turned down the proposal by a 70-30 percentage split, union rep Joe Rossman said. The raise only covered the next school year instead of the usual two-year contract. Administrators are only looking at next year due to questionable state funding. Salary talks will start again next year for the 2017-18 school year.
Neither side is disputing the contract language changes; rather salary is the sticking point. Union rep Jan Nicholson of Belgrade High School said teachers were “offended” by the proposed pay hike, and wondered if the district is “telling us that we are crappy teachers.”
District officials said the money simply isn’t there at this time. For instance, Superintendent Leland Stocker said the recently approved high school levy is “eaten up by (regular pay) increases for the next school year.” Stocker said funds are limited and asked union reps what should be the focus – salary, insurance or retirement.
Salary was the key, teachers said. The union group pointed to potential budget cuts like classroom supplies or items “further away from the classroom” to get more money into teachers’ pockets.
District Clerk Jay Bates said cutting supplies could help, and teachers could unplug personal items in the classroom like refrigerators and space heaters. But Stocker said he couldn’t obligate funds based on an unknown potential savings saying “I have to have something in hand to spend it.”
“The financial obligations we make today will affect the future. I want this district to be on firm footing,” he said adding later, “There isn’t a windfall of cash hidden in the ceiling of the district office that will magically fall down.”
As it stands, payroll accounts for about 85 percent of the school district’s general fund, Bates said. That leaves 15 percent for everything else save for technology and building maintenance as those are separate levied funds.
“Everything in this district hinges on the general fund,” he said.
The group will meet later this month to talk about potential fixes.