After reading the Valley Viewpoint article written by the Corvallis School District Board of Trustees and published in the Republic, the Corvallis Faculty Group (teachers) was shocked to learn that “over the past seven years compensation for teachers has been increased by more than $1 million . . .” In response, we asked the district office for payroll and insurance documents and the Office of Public Instruction (OPI) for budget summaries.

We determined that teacher payroll increases from the school year 2009-10 to 2015-16 rose $198,475 in total - certainly NOT the million dollars the School Board implied. This does not add up to the annual 3.75% increase for teachers that the Board published on November 11th.

The Board also stated that “during the same period increases to the school district’s general fund budget totaled only $224,994.” OPI budget summaries for Corvallis School District show the general fund budget increasing by $352,146.

The Corvallis Faculty Group (CFG) started discussions with the superintendent in November 2015. Our approach was not to do “business as usual,” but was rather an attempt at interest-based bargaining, working together with the Board negotiators as a group of stakeholders finding “win-win” solutions. However, when the topic of budgetary issues was raised, the mood shifted to the same, uncompromising “business as usual” approach by the Board. The current Board and superintendent seem unwilling to look outside the box for creative solutions.

The bottom line is teachers are taking home less money every year, even though the expectations and responsibilities increase. Some teachers in Corvallis School District with a master’s degree and 15 or more years of experience in their field qualify for public assistance because of their salaries.

While they publicly claim to be willing to continue negotiations, the Board’s negotiators show little, if any, willingness to change the way monies could be budgeted differently in favor of compensating the same dedicated teachers they claim to value.

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The CFG negotiators have made many suggestions about new approaches to the budget. These changes do not affect programs, they do not cut services, they do not reduce our ability to be effective educators, and they do not negatively impact students. Our suggestions have been focused on budgetary areas we believe are allocated ineffectively. We believe some of the Board’s budgetary practices exist only because they always have.

The Board says they value teachers. It is time to back up those words. A show of commitment would be to reexamine current budget expenditures and work with the CFG.

We are looking to the Board for honest leadership. We are looking to the Board for forward thinking and innovation. We have and will continue to work in good faith towards the process. We have and will continue to dedicate ourselves to maintaining the standard of scholastic excellence for which Corvallis School District is known throughout western Montana. We sincerely believe education is critical for every student, regardless of his or her social or economic situation.

We know we have support, and there are those who care enough to honk daily and wave in support as teachers stand together each morning before school. Thank you. We ask for your presence at our next negotiation meeting. Please tell your Board of Trustees to consider alternatives regarding spending.

The next scheduled negotiation meeting is December 20th at 4 p.m., upstairs in Corvallis High School.

Written by Kristina Berger, Aaron Holmberg, Alyce Leonardi, Gary Milner, Kristy Schlimgen, and Teachers of the Corvallis Faculty Group