Board approves teacher negotiations, to look at superintendent contracts

Teachers in Ennis will receive help with their health care costs as part of the contract negotiations that were approved by the Ennis School Board at it’s regular meeting Monday evening.

The contract negotiations were between the school board and the local teacher’s union, the Madison Valley Education Association. The approved arrangement is a two-year deal and includes $3,000 a year to go toward a health savings account.

The total cost to the district for its 30 teachers will be about $180,000 and the money will likely come out of the school district’s general fund excess account, which totals more than $540,000.

“I think it was pretty good negotiations,” said school board member Gary Croy, who was part of the negotiations team.

The negotiations between the board and the MVEA were a bit delayed this year as the school district waited for the Montana Legislature and Gov. Brian Schweitzer to sort out school funding. The school district anticipated a shortfall in their general fund and asked voters to support a $103,000 general fund levy. However, that was defeated at the polls.

And though the school district hired back all their certified teachers, they decided not to renew the contracts of two aids.

Another wrinkle that put negotiations off was a new law passed by the legislature aimed at limiting how much school districts could carry in their general fund excess budgets. All school districts can carry 10 percent of their general fund budgets in their general fund reserve accounts. In that past they’ve been able to carry any extra beyond that in a general fund excess reserve account. As of July 1, any general fund money in excess of 15 percent of the fund will go to the state.

Ennis has carried an excess general fund balance for several years, but with the new law they will be forced to move that balance into other accounts within their budget by June 30.

The health care payments negotiated between the board and the MVEA will come out of this general fund excess. However, the final decision on the transfer of the general fund excess into other accounts was tabled until June 28, so the board could have a chance to get some more questions answered.

The thought at the meeting amongst the board was to put the money for the teacher’s health care increases into the district’s flexibility fund and the remaining general fund excess into the building reserve account. However, board members Lisa Frye and Croy were concerned that there may be too many limitations on the money if it was transferred into the building reserve account.

Also, the board still didn’t have the final figures for what the school would receive in tax money for June, said district clerk Ginger Martello.

Putting off the decision about the transfer until June 28 will give the district time to get more information both about tax money coming in and spending rules for the building reserve fund.

“If we can get a specific list on where that money can be spent out of the building reserve fund so we’re not tying our hands, that would be good,” Croy said.

In other news, the school board is also going to address superintendent Doug Walsh’s contracts with the district. Walsh currently has two contracts with the school district, one for a third time superintendent and one for a two-thirds time bus supervisor.

Board members Jim McNally and Marc Glines will meet with Walsh to discuss his contracts.

The goal will to be to move to a fulltime superintendent and only one contract, Glines said.

“When there’s a new contract, there’ll be one contract,” he said.

The board also debated an update for high school principal John Sullivan on weighting the grading scale for advanced placement courses.

Next year Ennis High School plans to offer four AP courses and Sullivan proposed weighting those course grades by a half a point. For instance a student getting an A in an AP class would actually receive a 4.5 grade point for the class.

Most other schools weight their AP classes to reward students who want to push themselves academically, Sullivan said.

The board seemed willing to weight the class, but wanted Sullivan to gather more information on what other schools are doing before settling on an amount. The board also requested that teachers heading to AP course training later this month report back in July about what they learned and how other schools weight their AP classes.

The next Ennis School Board meeting will be the meeting to transfer general fund excess money June 28 at 5 p.m. at the high school. The board’s regular meeting will be July 11 at 5 p.m.


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