Three negotiators each for School District 2 and the Billings Education Association will meet June 10-12 for three intense days of contract talks.
Their goal will be to seal a multiyear deal for the district's 1,100 teachers during that time. The current contract expires June 30.
Dates, times and other specifics were decided Wednesday at a four-hour meeting at Lincoln Center. The sessions will be open to the public.
The bargaining teams were joined by John Andrew, who has agreed to facilitate negotiations. Andrew is head of the state's Labor Standards Bureau. He brokered a deal between the two sides during last November's teachers strike.
Andrew began the meeting by asking the two sides about his role in the talks.
"Why am I here?" Andrew said. "What do you expect out of me?"
District Board Chairwoman Katharin Kelker said she sees the facilitator's job as helping the sides communicate and stay focused. BEA President Allan Audet agreed.
"Last year, it didn't seem like we had a lot of communication on the proposals," Audet said.
The talks will be held at a neutral location and begin at 8 a.m. each day and end by 8 p.m. Cell phones will be shut off during the sessions, and only brief individual caucuses will be allowed inside the negotiating room. The district and the union will issue a joint statement at the end of each day. Individuals from either side cannot make separate statements to the media, Andrew said.
The two sides also agreed BEA team member Curt Prchal and Business Manager Deborah Long will work together on a common set of numbers that will be used to cost out proposals. Numbers proved a huge stumbling block in last year's contract talks.
The district's team will meet at 3 p.m. Friday in Room 213 of Lincoln Center to complete their contract proposal. The two sides then will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday to exchange proposals. Each side will be limited to five issues in their proposals, including the topics of insurance and salaries.
After the proposals have been traded, the two sides will spend the week scrutinizing the proposals and sharing them with the people they represent.
Although the district and the BEA have six-member negotiating teams, only three from each side will participate in the sessions. The BEA has decided on Audet, Prchal and teacher Scott McCulloch as the members of its three-member team.
Trustees chose Kelker, Cabrera and Long to represent them. The discussion came after extended conversation on what combination of three would be most effective for the board.
Trustee Gene Jarussi said Larry Martin, the district's attorney, would be valuable especially when the two sides discuss contract language issues.
"It's a contract and ultimately any change of wording, both sides have to live with it," Jarussi said. "When you think of that, even when people are careful, those changes could have a huge effect."
However, Kelker told the board the union had chosen a team with no professional negotiators. She said that at the meeting earlier in the day, union representatives said that if Martin sat on the district's smaller team, the BEA also would have to add a professional negotiator.
"That would indicate a different style of negotiating," Kelker said.
Board members also agreed on three language issues to present to the union. The issues deal with flexibility in teacher prep time, criteria for lane advancements for noncertified teachers and other district professionals and implementing some form of background check for current employees.
Trustees also agreed to bring forward an insurance proposal that mirrors the recommendations from the district's Insurance Committee. Board members indicated their interest in offering teachers a multi-year contract.
More difficult was the decision of how much budget authority to give the three-member team. Cabrera argued that the team would need some financial flexibility in its ability to make offers to the union, or the time at the bargaining table would be fruitless.
Trustees debated how much money would be enough, and whether staff or programs would have to be cut to carve out that amount. The board agreed to meet at noon Monday to continue the discussion.