Billings School District 2 officials will wait until after the state Legislature finishes business and a state budget is in place before deciding how to move forward with its contract with the local teachers union.
The union, known as the Billings Education Association, announced last week that it would not seek negotiated raises for its teachers. Rather, the union would take a zero percent increase and open its contract for negotiations with the district next year.
District officials and trustees have said the district will open negotiations this year and sit down with the union officials to hammer out a new contract.
But Jeff Greenfield, BEA president, said the district can't open the contract. He said officials missed the Jan. 1 deadline to request negotiations.
Superintendent Keith Beeman and board President Barbara Bryan have both said the district did give notice before the deadline. Officials are now waiting for the Legislature to approve a state budget.
“When that happens, I'm looking forward to meeting with the BEA leadership,” Beeman said.
Greenfield said that, at this point, there's nothing for the union to do but wait to hear from the district.
“I don't know what they're going to do,” he said.
But, he said, the union maintains that the district missed the deadline to request contract negotiations.
To move beyond the disagreement, the two sides have a few options.
Under the current contract, both sides can come together and decide on a resolution to the deadline dispute. That would require an interpretation of the contract to which both sides agree.
If an interpretation can't be decided on, then the two sides have the option of bringing in a third party to mediate the dispute. If that doesn't' work, the last option would be to file a grievance, which would then result in binding arbitration.
Greenfield said the next move would have to come from the district.
The union, in announcing that it is not seeking raises, has stated how it wants to proceed.
Beeman is confident that a resolution between the two groups can be worked out.
“At this point, that third party notion isn't even in my mind,” he said.