The Billings School District 2 board began the process Monday of deciding what would be a part of the next school year’s budget and what would be left out.
Trustees also voted to accept and join with the city on the Smart Growth planning grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.
With the budget, SD2 is looking at a multi-million- dollar budget shortfall — anywhere from $1.3 million to more than $3 million, depending on how the various bonds and mill levies do with voters next month.
At the meeting, the board voted to budget money to hire eight additional teachers to the district and to replace all of the 35 retiring teachers.
They budgeted money to hire two more custodians and a teaching aide. Trustees also marked $400,000 to spend on textbooks for the coming school year — less than half of the $1 million requested by staff for new textbooks.
In an effort to reduce costs, the board voted to keep budget reserves at their current level rather than try to increase them. The budget reserves dropped below 5 percent last year, and the district has been working to build them back up.
However, staff and trustees agreed that currently it’s more important for the district to have the increased number of teachers.
“The priority for me is teachers in the classroom,” said Interim Superintendent Jack Copps.
On May 11, Copps and board Chairwoman Teresa Stroebe will meet with officials at the Montana Office of Public Instruction to present a plan that addresses overcrowding in SD2 classrooms.
Right now, the district has 96 classrooms with a student/teacher ratio higher than what the state allows. The vast majority of those classes are in the kindergarten through second-grade level.
“We can’t fix this overnight,” Copps said. “We need to see if we can develop some kind of plan to make sure it doesn’t continue.”
At the meeting, trustees also discussed the EPA planning grant and voted to accept the services offered.
The grant — known as the Small Growth Technical Assistance Program — was awarded to the city and SD2 by the EPA last month, and is an award of services rather than money.
With it, the EPA comes to Billings, works with the community and creates a model plan that could be applied to the various planning needs of the city and school district.