Billings School District 2 principals and administrators can no longer use vacation days during the school year, the board voted Tuesday night.
The changes are part of a new benefits package crafted for SD2 administrators by Superintendent Keith Beeman. The change was an effort to reduce the amount of money the district pays out in unused vacation days and to ensure that administrators are in their buildings during the school year.
The board voted 7-2 to make the change. Trustees Travis Kemp and Pam Ellis voted against it.
“It’s not solely about money,” Beeman said.
The change would freeze the number of vacation days that current administrators have accrued with the maximum allowed being 60. New administrators hired this summer and afterward would have no vacation days.
Under the new policy, administrators are contractually obliged to be on the job throughout the school year. By the same token, they are contractually obligated to be off the job — or on vacation — during the summer.
By reducing and eventually removing vacation days, SD2 removes its obligation to pay employees for their unused time when they leave the district. That will save the district hundred of thousands of dollars, Beeman said.
If administrators have events or commitments that they want to attend during the school year, under the new policy they will have five personal days they can use, which come out of their sick leave.
“I do understand that changes can be unsettling,” Beeman said. But he said that he’s confident the results will improve the district.
It was an emotional discussion. At the meeting were a large number of the district’s principals, many reacting to the board discussion with guffaws or bewilderment.
None would go on the record about their opinions of the change, and many left the meeting visibly upset.
“I know there’s pain with change,” trustee Teresa Stroebe said. “But I think it’s important to do this.”
Also included in the new policy is an annual requirement for performance evaluations of the administrators.
Beeman said one SD2 high school principal has never had a job evaluation.
“That’s something that’s not acceptable,” Beeman said.
The policy also requires administrators to supply their own cell phones with the district paying a stipend to help them cover their costs.
Removing district cell phones would save the district $80,000 a year, Beeman said.
With a finalized budget now approved by the Legislature, trustees were able to begin making decision about where to cut and where to spend.
To get into compliance with the state Office of Public Instruction, trustees voted to hire a librarian and school counselor for the elementary schools.
They also voted to go after $5.6 million in federal bonds for facility improvements in the elementary school district.
Under the deal, taxpayers would pay a third of the $5.6 million.
Along with the bond, they’ll go after a $1.5 million technology levy for the elementary schools.
Both will go before voters this fall.
In making those decisions, trustees decided not to pursue with voters two general fund mill levies for the elementary and high school districts.
“We’re not going to pass three levies and a bond,” Chairwoman Barbara Bryan said.