Nearly two-thirds of Billings teachers have said they would be willing to consider trimming their scheduled raise next year in hopes that the district can reduce its budget deficit without major cuts to services for students.
In a survey of the district’s 1,200 union members, teachers were asked whether the Billings Education Association should open talks with the district about reducing teachers’ raises next year from 3.6 percent to 2.6 percent.
Of the 850 surveys returned, two-thirds indicated they supported the idea of talking to the district.
“When I heard the vote, the only thing I could think of was, ‘Thank you,’ ” said Superintendent Jack Copps.
BEA President Jeff Greenfield emphasized Wednesday that any agreement with the district is not a sure thing and may not resemble what was presented in the survey.
“We will pursue something like that, but it’s not certain what the outcome would be,” he said.
But both Copps and Greenfield are hopeful the move will build some community goodwill for the $1.8 million elementary school mill levy the district has proposed for May.
The willingness to consider a pay concession “is a very strong message from teachers in our community,” Copps said.
And administrators are open to sending the same message with a pay raise cut of their own, he said.
“I have every confidence that administrative staff will provide similar savings,” he said. “I can’t imagine there would be any resistance to that.”
The district projected a $4 million budget shortfall over the next two years, but that figure recently grew when district staff discovered an accounting error last week totaling nearly $900,000.
The district hopes to gain concessions from all three of its bargaining units — the teachers union, support staff and professionals — to help reduce that deficit.
Officials then hope to close it the rest of the way with May’s mill levy.
“I see it as critical to protecting ... quality education in the district,” Copps said.
Without the levy and the pay concessions, the district has suggested clustering some elementary schools, a move that would spread grades K-6 across three buildings. The savings would come from increasing class sizes and eliminating teaching positions.
Copps on Wednesday said he also feared that the projected deficit would force the district to shave $450,000 from programs for at-risk students and cut as many as eight high school teaching positions.
Contact Rob Rogers at email@example.com or at 406-657-1231.