The Butte school district offered teachers a one-year contract Wednesday that included a raise and boost in health insurance coverage after the teachers steadfastly refused a two-year agreement.
Pat Fleming, a Butte lawyer representing the district, told union representatives that administrators would still prefer to hammer out a two-year deal. And even though it didn't include raises in the second year, Fleming said teachers could benefit from the two-year deal because the district is strapped financially.
He said they would guarantee no cuts if teachers accepted the two-year agreement.
"If we don't have a two-year contract, we may have rollbacks in the second year," Fleming said during negotiations. "There is no risk of any kind of rollbacks if we have a two-year contract."
For months the district and Butte Teachers' Union have been meeting to come up with a contract for this school year. The union initially asked for a 6 percent raise, in addition to the standard "steps and lanes" automatic raises that are tied to a teacher's education level and years of service.
Fleming has said that, with declining enrollment and a down economy, the district is facing an incredibly tight budget that makes giving
raises on top of steps and lanes difficult. By Wednesday's session - the seventh negotiation - the district was offering 2 percent while teachers were asking for 3 percent. The district also offered a $25 per month increase to help pay for health insurance.
But Mike Kujawa, BTU president, said teachers had no interest in the two-year contract. He said the district's offer for no raise and no boost in the health insurance payment the second year offered teachers nothing.
"When I say something in the second year, it's not zero in wages and zero in health insurance," he said. "I can negotiate that next year."
After the initial discussions, Fleming conferred with trustees who came for the session.
John Ries, a board member, asked if a projection that the district may have 30 additional elementary students would mean more state money. But Fleming said J.R. Richardson, district business manager, has cautioned that they can't spend money they don't know is coming.
And he said the 2 percent raise was an absolute maximum the district can afford.
"We have offered everything we can guarantee to pay," Fleming said. "Everything else and we're spending money we don't have."
In addition, the district might have to foot the bill for special education teachers if the expected cuts from the federal government for Title I instruction come to fruition, said Therese McClafferty, human resources manager.
Several board members said it was time to make the last, best offer and let the union decide whether to take the one-year contract. They said the majority of Class AA districts around the state aren't giving any raises this year and coming to an agreement for a two-year contract seemed unlikely.
"We could be here forever trying to get a two-year agreement," said Ann Brady Boston. "Two percent is a God-given gift right now."
Fleming made the offer for the one-year contract and also said the two-year deal with the guarantee of no cuts was still available. Kujawa said the teachers have no interest in the two-year deal and would consider the contract proposal for the one-year deal.
The union meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 26, in the Butte High School commons to consider the contract.
Reporter Nick Gevock may be reached at email@example.com.