At a special meeting Monday night, the Ennis School Board decided to hire back all non-tenured teachers.
This decision came a week after another board meeting in which the fate of non-tenured teachers was a bit uncertain as the school board and school administration wrestled with budget concerns in light of continued uncertainty from the state level and voter’s rejection of two mill levies.
However, the budget for next year is still uncertain, as final funding figures from the state still haven’t come down, said Ennis School superintendent Doug Walsh.
Walsh is still predicting funding to be about $75,000 short of what it was last year.
Additionally, the board discussed options for where to place their excess general fund reserves.
This past session, the Montana Legislature gave school districts with excess general fund reserves the opportunity to do a one-time transfer of those funds into any other budgeted funds. For Ennis School District, that general fund excess is about $546,000. This transfer must be done by July 1. After that any reserves in the general fund over 15 percent will go to the state.
Walsh told the school board members that he wanted to be cautious about transferring the money into a fund where it would be used for ongoing costs.
Jay Fredrickson, who is a teacher and coach at the school, asked the board to consider putting the money in different funds including the flex fund where it could be used to help teachers out with health care costs, such as a contribution to a health savings account.
School board members asked for more information about where the money could go, but most of the conversation was between putting the money in the flexibility fund or the building reserve fund.
If it’s put in the flex fund, the money can be spent on just about anything, Walsh said. However, that fund has caught the eye of the legislature in the past and lawmakers have talked about raiding the flex funds of wealthier school districts, he said.
If the money was put in the building reserve fund, it could only be used for specific things and would be more limited than the flex fund, Walsh said. However, that fund has never been looked at for raiding by the legislature.
“We need to put it where we can best use it,” said board member Gary Croy.
Board chairman Marc Glines asked Walsh to put together a pro and con list for putting the money in the flex fund versus the building reserve fund.
New board member Lisa Frye produced a list similar to what Glines was looking for that she had worked up in conversation with the Montana School Board Association.
Croy also requested that a representative from the school board association be present at the next regular board meeting where the fate of the general fund excess will be decided.
Another impact to next year’s budget may be negotiations over property taxes in the Big Sky area, Walsh said. He anticipates that the school district will receive less than expected in tax funds due to protests over property values, but just how much less is still unknown.
The school district is also in continued negotiations with the Madison Valley Education Association – the local teacher’s union. Contracts with teachers expire June 30.
The negotiations on new contracts stalled a bit as the board took up the budget and staffing issues, said Fredrickson, who is also a MVEA negotiator.
A negotiation meeting will be scheduled in the next two weeks.