HomeState NewsHelena School Board votes not to renew contracts for 52 non-tenured teachers

Helena School Board votes not to renew contracts for 52 non-tenured teachers

Helena, Montana – On Tuesday evening, the Helena School Board of Trustees decided with a unanimous vote to not renew the contracts of 52 teachers who do not have tenure. This decision has caused worry among parents and teachers alike. This year, the number of dismissed teachers has risen sharply to double last year’s total of 26. This increase is largely due to the school district’s financial difficulties and recent failed levies, explained Karen Ogden, who handles communications for the district.

It is a normal practice for school districts to let go of teachers who have not been employed for three consecutive years. However, officials from the Helena school district pointed out that these significant reductions are essential for managing the school’s financial health. Additionally, 19 other teachers have decided to retire or resign. Consequently, the Helena schools may face a reduction of up to 71 teachers next year.

“We’re trying to be upfront about this,” board trustee Jeff Hindoien said during the meeting Tuesday. “This gives us the flexibility to try and configure what we’re going to do for next year, and then take what we’ve got in our non-tenured ranks that were not renewed and do our best to plug as many back in as we can.”

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The district won’t know exactly how many teachers can be rehired until they finalize the budget in August, leaving some teachers frustrated and unsure about their future.

“It is disheartening to hear and to feel that it does not matter how hard you work, you are just a number to this board,” Brittney Booton, a teacher at Broadwater Elementary School, said during the public comment portion of the meeting. She said she came to speak on behalf of herself and the other non-tenured teachers with non-renewed contracts.

“We are sad, we are frustrated, and many more unfortunate things right now. We have dedicated ourselves to our students and to this district,” Booton said. “We should not be required to apply for our jobs on your time frame. You are at serious risk of losing a lot of really quality educators in our district, which you pride yourself on having.”

The school board plans to use the guidance from a budget consensus committee, formulated in anticipation of failing school levies, to decide on the district’s future actions. Some proposals from this committee suggest cutting or scaling back various school programs, including the PEAK gifted program, as well as physical education and music classes. These changes are expected to lead to larger class sizes in the upcoming school year.

Abigail Nyhof, a music teacher with 14 years of experience in Helena schools, addressed the board, expressing concerns over merging classes and programs like music, which could force teachers to instruct subjects they are not trained in.

“As a taxpayer and community member, I know that our students deserve a well-rounded education from teachers who are as qualified as they possibly can be, rather than their minimum,” she said.

The school board of trustees is set to discuss the budget more thoroughly at a work session scheduled for Tuesday, May 21, at 3:30 p.m., which will be held at the Project for Alternative Learning School, located at 815 Front St.

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