The Belgrade School Board unanimously approved a two-year contract for its teachers that includes a raise, a full-time union representative and changes to sick days.
The big issue, though, was the method by which the sides came to an agreement, according to trustees, administrators and Belgrade Education Association officials, the union that represents local teachers.
Rather than employ the usual negotiating tactics, the process was switched to a consensus-based arrangement, officials said. It wasn’t unusual for a mediator to come in after talks fell apart to find common ground during past negotiations.
“It is a completely different way,” BEA President Joe Rossman said. “In negotiations in the past, we would meet one day a week for 16 weeks. Using (the consensus-based model) we were done in three days ... there was no anger and no animosity.”
Teacher Randy Radke agreed and said trust was a barrier between both sides in the past.
“This was a step to build trust and a bridge,” he said.
Consensus-based bargaining is used by the Bozeman School District and other districts across the state, according to school officials. Members use a thumbs-up or thumbs-down sign to find agreement with each statement. If a thumbs-down sign is flashed by anyone, the group discusses the matter until all are in agreement.
Teachers ratified the contract with a 93.7% vote. Trustees unanimously approved the contract Wednesday morning.
The new deal will give teachers a 1.5% raise next year, but the negotiations will have to be held for the 2020-2021 year due to the failure of the general mill levy this year. That stipulation was pre-approved before negotiations began.
Also in the contract:
• The base pay was raised about $3,000 to $35,952. The boost “should help” the district recruit new teachers, officials said.
• A full-time teacher union rep will be paid in a split
between teachers and the district at a 20-80 percent cut respectively.
Trustee Frank Stock said the new hire is necessary to keep up with growth. All Class AA districts employ a full-time rep due to the time needed to resolve issues with more teachers in the mix.
“It’s the cost of doing business,” Stock said. “It benefits us as much as teachers in the district.”
• Teachers will be paid for unused sick days. Instead of using sick days, educators can stockpile days capped at 100 days. At retirement, teachers can cash in those days to boost retirement pay. The move is an incentive to cut back on teachers’ days off, which requires hiring a substitute that eats into district funds.
Trustees abandon former vote approving a new position
Trustees also voted 5-1 Wednesday morning to rescind an April vote establishing a new administrative position to manage the Special Events Center, gyms and sports fields.
The board approved the move in April with a split vote, but some trustees and officials called foul. In March, the board agreed to kick the proposal to a committee to further hash out the issue.
But the April vote was brought up without going before the approved committee and without a salary attached.
“It was irresponsible to march this past people,” Trustee Frank Stock said Wednesday. “It is not responsible to fund (the position) without a pay band.”
The proposal will go before a committee with a July deadline for a solution.
The debate is the public should be able to use the facilities which could boost coffers. District records supplied by Clerk Jay Bates questioned the management of the facilities. Although district employees familiar with the event center and its budget has questioned those assertions.
The issue came back for a vote after Trustees Peter Morgan and Bob Marx were replaced on the board. Newly appointed Chairwoman Mary Ellen Fitzgerald was the lone vote against the measure.
The position was already advertised and people have applied for the post.