The Missoula County Public Schools district has notified dozens of nontenured teachers that they won’t be rehired until the MCPS budget picture clears up.
School districts commonly give such notices in tight budget years. Last year, MCPS informed 90 nontenured teachers – those with three years or less on the job – that their jobs were in limbo. Back then, the district was wrestling with uncertain funding during the 2010-11 legislative session, as well as the possibility that its two levies, totaling more than $7 million, would fail. The levies passed and the district was able to keep all 90 positions.
Right now, MCPS is projecting a general fund budget of $31.8 million for its elementary and middle schools, and a $26.9 million budget for its high schools for next year. The complicating factor, said MCPS personnel manager Steve McHugh, is negotiations with the two unions that represent 1,200 district employees.
“The negotiation process is the whole thing right now,” he said. “We just have to get the contracts settled. That’s the biggest thing.”
MCPS has had two initial bargaining sessions with the Missoula Education Association, which represents certified staff. It has yet to begin negotiations with the Merged Missoula Classified Employees Organization, which represents classified staff.
Salaries and benefits for MCPS employees make up about 90 percent of most districts’ budgets.
Some of the 36 positions are grant-funded and are in limbo pending the approval of money. Some are “late hire” positions, where the teacher must automatically reapply for the position anyway.
All of the affected teachers have been notified of the rehiring delay. MCPS is not using the announcement as a bargaining tool, said McHugh.
“Right now, we’re in protect-the-district mode,” he said. “We’re not trying to send a message to anybody. We have to pay the bills next year.”
Union negotiations typically wrap up in late spring or early summer. Only when the negotiations finish will the district be able to say whether the positions can be retained.