In a special meeting Wednesday night, the Billings School District 2 board approved drawing money from its reserve funds to help pay for unexpected increases in its retirement benefit obligations.
More SD2 employees than planned retired this year, leaving the district on the hook to pay for more retirements than it had budgeted.
When employees retire from the district, they’re paid out for their unused sick and vacation days, along with other benefits. This year, the district was $550,000 short of what it needed in the high school district.
In all, the district will need roughly $828,556 for the high school district retirements. It had budgeted $234,273.
The board voted unanimously to pull $550,000 from its reserve fund cover the shortfall.
“It’s quite common,” said SD2 finance director Thomas Harper. “The city and county do it probably every quarter.”
“But we don’t always have them,” responded board Chairwoman Barbara Bryan, referring to the overages.
Harper explained that the district’s unions were coming off a three-year employment contract. Those who retired at the end of the contract — this year — receive a higher rate of pay in their retirement benefits.
That’s partly why retirements were so high this year, he said.
Last May, the district passed a $1.8 million general-fund mill levy for the elementary school district, leaving it with enough money to pay for the additional retirement costs there.
The board unanimously approved another $500,000 expenditure to cover the matching money it pays into teacher and public employee retirement funds for high school and elementary school.
Following the meeting, the board’s policy committee met to update district rules regarding cyberbullying among its students.
SD2’s computer acceptable-use policy and student discipline policy both described and condemned bullying-like behavior but they never used the term “cyberbullying,” said Karen Palmer, the district’s technology director.
So, in updating the two policies, the committee now has added language describing specifically what is considered cyberbullying, using the term and describing the action the district will take when it occurs.
“That was an area we wanted to make crystal-clear,” Palmer said.
At the meeting were counselors and administrators from the district’s middle schools and a few of its elementary schools.
Also there was Mike Yakawich, chairman of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Yellowstone County.
“On the whole, this is a good policy,” he told the committee.
He recommended they use more active language, replacing weaker words like “may” with “shall” or “will.” He also suggested that bullying reports from across the district be sent to one central entity that would review everything.