It stinks. It's not for the kids; it's for the lawsuits. It put children, once again, in the middle of disputes between School District 2 and its teachers union.
There's nothing we like about the settlement the School Board voted to accept at its Monday meeting. In fact, the only things worse are the alternatives: continuing strike-related litigation by parents and the Billings Education Association, the uncertainty of future judgments from District Court or the Montana Supreme Court, the possibility of losing state funds and dragging potential financial liabilities into the next school year.
Yes, these lawsuits over reopening the elementary schools during the strike and the BEA's unfair labor practice complaints need to be resolved. The district and the community needs to move on.
$854,000 settlement But that doesn't mean the settlement is a good deal. It will cost SD2 $545,000 in teachers salaries and $222,400 in other expenses to operate 21 elementary schools for five extra days. In addition, trustees agreed to pay $87,176 in legal fees for the parents who sued and the BEA.
The BEA had made it clear that there would be no contract negotiations for next year until the "elementary days" issues were settled. The union shouldn't be able to hold such a hammer over the school district. The School Board must not leave itself open to these challenges; it must ensure that it conducts public business openly and within the law at all times.
Moving forward Now that the union has gotten the settlement it sought, we expect that the BEA bargaining team is ready to commence contract negotiations. Teachers, especially untenured teachers, and the rest of the community need certainty about the contract and how it will affect the tight school budget. We suggest starting negotiations on June 9 during the extra week that elementary schools will be open.
We call on the School Board and the BEA to get a multiyear contract before July 1. Let's get these old issues resolved before the new superintendent goes to work. Let Rod Svee start with a clean slate.
We call on the School Board and particularly Kathy Kelker, the newly elected board chairwoman, to set a positive course for the district. The "elementary days" litigation is rooted in the distrust and secrecy that permeated board conduct last year.
It's amazing that we are talking about "restoring" school days missed five months ago. Now most families already have summer plans made for the week after school was scheduled to end. Kids are in summer mode, ready for vacation in two weeks. It isn't fair to put them back in the classroom.
Getting closure on the strike Neither parents nor students should be pressured in any way to attend those days. However, for parents who choose to send their children to school June 9-13, the settlement offers educational value to partially offset the costs of settling the litigation.
This payment by SD2 should close the sad chapter on the strike. After June 13, the district and its teachers must move forward together to serve the children of Billings.