The Blaine County School District and its teachers came to an agreement last week after more than 12 hours spent negotiating contracts for the 2020-21 school year.

Complicating negotiations this year was the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left the district’s budget for the upcoming school year full of question marks. Gov. Brad Little has proposed a 5 percent holdback for public school funding next year, though that decision won’t be final until July at the earliest.

That 5 percent could mean up to $721,000 less for the Blaine County School District during the 2020-21 school year, plus an estimated $345,000 lost in what would have been funding increases. It’s also unknown whether the district will take a hit in local property tax funding, as some Blaine County residents may struggle to pay their mortgages later in the summer.

The master agreement was approved by the Blaine County School District board of trustees in a special meeting Friday. Last Wednesday, the Blaine County Education Association, which represents local educators, announced that 88 percent of its 196 voting members had voted to ratify the agreement.

“I think everybody came together with an understanding of what we’re facing,” school board Chairman Keith Roark said in Friday’s meeting.

Under the approved master agreement, employees will remain at the same pay “step” based on years worked that they were on in the 2019-20 school year, but may advance to a higher salary “lane” through professional development and continuing education. The district will also cover increases in insurance for the upcoming school year.

Teachers will not receive the additional $500 in professional development funds that they normally might have in the 2020-21 school year. They will, however, still be able to use any unused accrued funds from previous years. Little’s holdback proposal includes reducing funding for professional development by about 45 percent.

The district’s contribution rate for the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI) will remain the same as it was this past school year, the district and BCEA agreed.

Trustee Lara Stone, who represented the School District in negotiations along with board Vice Chairwoman Kelly Green, voiced appreciation for the BCEA’s “understanding of the needs of our communities in this unprecedented economic time” at Friday’s board meeting.

“I want to thank teachers for all their hard work in a trying year,” Stone said.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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