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October 23 School Board Speeches

Matt Meyer, BFT President

Good evening Dr. Stephens and members of the School Board,

First, I want to thank you for the progress we are making to support our special education program. There have been real gains made at the table that will transform the ability of our case managers to support their students. It’s a great example of what we can accomplish when we listen to the teachers who do this hard work and focus on what they tell us about how to make our Full Inclusion Program work. 

Although we are pleased on that front, we are very concerned by the October 9th compensation proposal from the District. As you can tell by this packed room, our members and the Berkeley community are concerned as well. We would all prefer to be planning lessons, grading papers, or spending time with our families--but without a commitment from this School Board to raise our salaries to sustainable levels, we have no choice but to be here. 

We’ve presented our case over the last year and a half that BUSD employees need a significant raise--and the numbers bear it out. Teachers and classified staff are forced to make hard choices about whether we can afford to continue to teach in the district we love. Our long commutes, second jobs, and low pay have hurt our morale. We’re not sure we belong here. We’re not sure we can stay here. Teachers are leaving. Positions are going unfilled. Ultimately it is the students who will suffer the most as we scramble to find teachers who are willing to accept the low compensation that Berkeley offers. 

Is this the beginning of a long downward spiral of teacher turnover and unfilled positions? Will this negatively impact the quality of education we deliver to our students? Or are we on the cusp of creating a stable workforce where our teachers can be part of the community they serve? You have the opportunity right now to choose stability, to choose sustainability, to choose quality. 

We all know that something needs to change in this District. As our members talk about the struggles they face, I know you understand. Now is the time when you can make a real difference in the lives of your employees, both certificated and classified. We need meaningful long-term improvement so that we know we can stay for the long haul. 

This problem will not be solved by a parcel tax alone, generous though it may be.  The parcel tax will help raise us to a new comparative starting point, but without general fund contributions to salaries there is no chance that we can become--and remain--truly competitive. We are so far behind in relative compensation that general fund revenue is also required to lift our salaries to competitive levels. 

If we undershoot this jump, we are guaranteeing that we will face the same problems again in the near future and we will all be back in this room, lamenting the turnover and unfilled positions and struggling to figure out how to stop the slide. 

All other districts, whether large or small, use new revenues for compensation, and we need to do the same to keep up. Even non-concentration grant districts like ours have figured out ways to give their employees raises. All around us, districts are raising salaries and becoming more attractive to new educators. We are confident that Berkeley can do the same. 

The current district proposal simply does not get us to a competitive place in this county. We have heard you many times express the need to fix this problem, both on the dias and on the campaign trail. The time to act is NOW. 

We need the district to come to the negotiating table on October 28th with a serious offer--one that meets the challenge of our current situation, one that makes a real difference, one that we can all agree is sufficient to keep our talented employees in Berkeley, now and in the future. 

 

Cynthia Allman, Malcolm X Teacher and BFT Treasurer

Good Evening Board Members and Dr. Stephens,

I’m Cynthia Allman. I’ve been a kindergarten teacher at Malcolm X for 20 years and I’m a proud BFT officer and member of the Negotiations Team. I’m here tonight to urge you to seize the opportunity NOW to really make a positive change for public education in Berkeley.

For many months, you’ve been hearing heart-rending stories from our members. You’ve heard of the difficult choices they’ve had to make between serving the students of Berkeley and providing for their own families. You’ve heard of the necessity of second jobs and soul-crushing commutes and shared rooms. You’ve heard from special ed teachers who are drowning in paperwork and have too many students on their caseloads. You’ve heard second thoughts about whether they can even remain Berkeley teachers.   

We understand that the high cost of living is not the district’s fault. We know that major change is needed in the way California funds public education and we hope to work with you to qualify and pass the Schools and Communities First measure next year. 

BUT we also know that we can’t afford to wait. Teachers are struggling NOW. Teachers are leaving NOW. They’re leaving this district because they simply can’t afford to keep working at the jobs they love. New teachers are not applying to work here because neighboring districts are paying so much more. For the first time, we’ve had a significant challenge filling positions. The students will keep coming, but who will staff our schools to teach them? 

Fortunately, right now you have a chance to take bold action that will really change this untenable situation. With the generous support of our community and the careful allocation of state revenue, you can offer your employees a substantial, meaningful and ongoing raise. 

With a fair contract now, you can keep talented teachers in Berkeley. You can recruit the best new educators. You can have a district where certificated and classified staff can continue to make a long and successful career. 

NOW  is the time!

 

SPED Petition Presented By: Josh Austin, Lila Wilkinson, Elizabeth Buchanan, Christie Riedell, Karis Taylor, Pamela Lichtenwalner, Amanda Cardno, Mary Machens Martin, and Hillary Trainor

  1. We have a  petition that was signed by over 1,000 educators and community members. in just three weeks time!

  2. As proud educators, parents, families, and community members of the Berkeley Unified School District, we support the visionary and groundbreaking inclusive education model of Berkeley public schools and our commitment to equitable outcomes as outlined in the BUSD mission statement and 2020 Vision: Equity in Education. 

  3. In BUSD, the special education case managers do their job to the benefit of all students and educators. 

  4. The ever-increasing amount of legally-binding paperwork and time-intensive assessments are too often taking case managers away from the classroom where they provide service that most directly supports students and teachers.

  5. When caseloads are too high, case managers cannot effectively serve students, and our classroom teachers and students are left under-supported. 

  6. Too many formal assessments take case managers away from serving students directly.

  7. Due to the intense emotional, physical, and intellectual workload, here was a 27% turnover rate last year alone. Our students benefit from a stable workforce, and they are not getting this due to the excessive workload of this job. 

  8. As educators who care deeply for our students, we demand that our children in need of specialized support, and our case managers and teacher, are better supported in the following ways:

  9. A limit to the number of total assessments that each special education case manager must administer.

  10. Cap caseloads for case managers at 18 students with mild/moderate disabilities and 8 with moderate/severe disabilities. 

Susi Lopez, Berkeley High School Teacher

Good evening, esteemed Board Members, Superintendent Stephens, members of the community. My name is Susi López and I am a Spanish teacher at Berkeley High School. I have been in this district for almost a decade and I have served my school in a wide variety of roles. Currently, I am a member of the negotiations team.

When I arrived at BHS, I quickly realized that this is a place of niches and I soon found my own. The Spanish-for-Native Speakers program is where my professional heart resides and it is working with that student population that I find the greatest inspiration for my work. Through collaboration with teachers at Longfellow, we started to mix our native speakers with the students that come up through the dual immersion program and I have to tell you that the combination of native and non-native spanish speaking students is what teaching dreams are made of. 

However, the magical mix that allows our students to embrace culture through a language other than their own and become true citizens of the world, is seriously threatened when teachers like me, in areas that are consistently difficult to staff, get to a point where they have to take a hard look at their present and future financial security. 

Over the last few months, you have heard from many of our young teachers who are fresh out of their credentialing programs. 

They have told you, in no uncertain terms, that the low salaries for teachers in Berkeley and the high costs of living are a combination that simply may not allow them to make a career in this district. Today you also get to hear from me, a mid-career teacher who despite the deeply-rooted attachment to her programs, the students she serves, and the families to whom she feels connected for having taught older and younger siblings may find it nearly impossible to continue working at the high school that she loves.

It is at this critical juncture, when we are seeing that it may not be long before we become last in educator compensation in the area, that I have to ask myself, how can I justify staying at BUSD and not look for a job in another local district, such as San Leandro Unified,  where I would immediately make 20 thousand dollars more a year. 

When I was young, my grandmother used to say that I should not fall in love with someone poor because love could not support me and could not take care of me forever. I now apply her words to my job in this district. That love alone, for my students and my school, simply can’t support me and it definitely can’t take care of me forever. Thank you. 

Hillary Trainor, Washington SPED Teacher 

Good evening, Board members and Dr. Stephens. 

I’m Hillary Trainor, in my 6th year as a Moderate-Severe Inclusion teacher at Washington.

I’ve worked in special education for 15 years, and I love teaching.  Working in Berkeley, the home of “Full Inclusion,” is exactly where I want to be. 

As we all discover, though, collaborating, modifying, teaching, assessing, and preparing legally binding documents well takes time- up to 12 hours every day.

At first, while I worked late into the night and over weekends, I started a kind of “joke” I would tell my worried friends/ family, saying “well, it’s just a good thing I don’t have kids of my own, because this would be even harder…”

After several years though, I couldn’t tell that joke anymore. It’s not really funny- I don’t have my own kids, but... I still can’t serve my students well. 

And it’s not just me- over 25% of our Special Education staff left Berkeley last spring, many for neighboring districts. Some of those teachers- some really fantastic advocates for students- were teachers I’d proudly recruited to come here.

In fact, every single teacher I’ve now recruited has left within 2 years, because they’re overwhelmed with Berkeley’s unsustainable workload. 

The moment that makes me most embarrassed, was when I reached out to my former professors for recruits last spring. For the first time, they told me they didn’t have any teachers to recommend, because no one wants to come work in Berkeley anymore. 

We have a crisis.

But- this week, we also have a choice. We can be proactive. We can cap caseloads, to teach students as they ought to be taught in inclusion.

We can limit assessments, so we can provide consistent student support. 

The district’s current proposal is a start in mindset, but the assessment limits they proposed are higher than what most teachers are already completing yearly. 

Without limits that actually make a difference, we won’t be able to better serve our students or attract teachers back to Berkeley. 

So we’re asking for what our students need to succeed- meaningful caseload caps and assessment limits. Thank you.
 

David Schroeder, Independent Study Teacher

Good evening school board members,

My name is David Schroeder, and I wish to thank and congratulate you and staff. Since I last spoke with you, Berkeley Unified School District has wisely chosen to hire BIS (Berkeley Independent Study) teachers permanently, not as perpetual temp employees.

Like too many colleagues, I was a temp for 7 years at BIS. Each year I would unnecessarily get a pink slip, only to be rehired once again to teach math. I am so glad that, unlike some colleagues who left BIS, I continue to serve my students. I’m similarly glad our district is no longer wasting paid employee time on that pink slip paperwork nightmare.

My school’s nightmares would lessen if BIS teachers became salaried like other K-12 teachers. Unlike salaried teachers, BIS teachers are not compensated for our advanced education and professional development. Compensation for us fluctuates each month, making it incredibly hard to pay bills during months with school breaks. For BIS, the holiday break is a not just a season of giving, but also of financially losing out. A full time teacher at BIS teaches 6 hours a day (much longer than 5 class periods) with only 3 prep hours per week. In that time, we may need to prep for 8 different classes. Overworked and underpaid, we are not even entitled to the maternity or paternity leave that salaried teachers receive. As a result, constant staff turnover prevents us from fully developing long term academic relationships that support our students.

There are other nightmares I believe the district can avoid in order to cut costs. For instance, last board meeting one of my colleagues brought decades of time sheets in a stack the thickness of an encyclopedia. Those sheets represent hours of error-correcting e-mails, phone calls and meetings, because human error is inevitable with the overuse of hourly time sheets. The way out of this bureaucratic nightmare is simple: make BIS teachers salaried, not hourly.

I am worried about my students, worried that more of my BCCE and BFT colleagues will be priced out of this district, and afraid that we may be forced to go on strike. Please end this nightmare. BIS teachers need to be salaried, my special education colleagues need caseload caps, and BCCE and BFT need raises that keep up with neighboring districts. 

Thank you for your consideration.