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Keep Teachers in Berkeley

The following remarks were provided to the Board of Education on March 13, 2019 by BFT President Cathy Campbell.

Good Evening Board Members and Superintendent Evans,

My name is Cathy Campbell and I am the President of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.

As you can see, tonight I am joined by hundreds of my fellow educators, both certificated and classified, as well as parents and community members. We are here to show our fierce commitment to our profession and to public education. We are here to bring into focus critical needs of Berkeley educators and students. We are here to tell you that we absolutely love our jobs--our students, our families, our colleagues and our community--but that working in Berkeley has become utterly unsustainable for far too many of us.  We are here to insist that you bring the full weight of your resources, influence and authority, and join us in our fight to keep these talented teachers rooted in Berkeley.

In your negotiations with BFT we have the opportunity to address some of the most pressing issues facing our schools:

  •  We need a stable teaching and classified staff in Berkeley in order to meet our students’ needs and expedite progress on our equity gaps.  We need to be able to staff all of our positions, and to retain our talented teachers.  As you know, our competitiveness with nearby districts has slipped and this must be addressed.  We are right above Oakland now in some comparison categories.  We have positions that we have not been able to fill this year, the first time I have seen this happen in my 12 years as BFT President.  This year we have had more teachers leaving mid-year for financial reasons than we have ever had before.  We risk significant teacher turnover if we do not address this issue aggressively.
  • We need more staff to fully implement our Full Inclusion model of education for all.  We need caseload caps so that our case managers can better serve students and fulfill IEPs, and we need MORE Education Specialists to make our very unique and powerful model work as it was intended to.  An increase in staff, and in our ability to serve students comprehensively, will reduce our legal costs and likely save our district money in the end.  Most importantly, this is the right thing to do for our students and their families.
  • We have an opportunity to significantly improve education for our students by adopting an academic calendar that ends First Semester before Winter Recess.  This change will allow for more meaningful final exams, less wasted instructional time in January, and a “real” break for secondary students over the Winter Recess.  This change will especially help those students applying to CSUs.

We KNOW that funding is tight. We KNOW that there are many needs and priorities. We KNOW that it will not be easy for you to find a way to pay the raises that are needed and we understand that larger solutions are needed to fix the inadequate state funding of schools and the regional housing crisis.

BUT we also know that our young teachers are commuting long distances or squeezing into shared living or staying with their parents. We know that our mid-career teachers are asking themselves if they can both start a family and teach in Berkeley, and our veteran teachers are desperately hoping that they can afford to send their own children to college and retire in their own community. And we’ve all come out in unity tonight to be sure that you know these things too.

As we look for options to fund the meaningful raise that will be needed to improve Berkeley’s competitiveness with nearby districts and to retain our talented staff great creativity, tenacity and commitment will be required.  We will all need to work at both the LOCAL and the STATE levels to address this challenge.  We will need to find both SHORT and LONG-term solutions to avoid a huge increase in teacher turnover.

Some steps that will be required include:

  • Further examining our BUSD budget for efficiencies and possible savings.
  • Making strategic use of our Ending Fund Balance.
  • Looking at possible new local revenue.
  • Fighting hard as a community for COMMERCIAL property tax reform in 2020.
  • Playing a STRONG role in efforts to pressure our democratic-controlled legislature and our Governor to get California out of the bottom ranks of education funding in our country.  California is the 5th largest economy in the WORLD and it shameful that we are 41st in the nation per pupil funding.  We have more billionaires than any state in the U.S. and more students in poverty than any other state.  This has got to change, and as has been done in Arizona and West Virginia and other states we may need to join together to shut down our schools for a day or more this spring to say: we’ve had it, enough is enough, this must change.

We must act with decisiveness and urgency, and with students at the forefront of our hearts and minds.  Our students and our families are counting on us.