Back to top

September 18 School Board Speeches

Matt Meyer

President, Berkeley Federation of Teachers

Good Evening Board Members and Superintendent Stephens. My name is Matt Meyer 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, certificated and classified, as well as parents, students and community members. As you know, we were here in mass last March to speak to the Board about several critical needs in our District. Here we are again, in September, working on an expired contract, because these needs have not yet been addressed. These critical needs include both sustainable compensation for all educators and supports that make our Full Inclusion model sustainable.

Our special education teachers are deeply committed to their students. Education Specialists believe in their students, advocate for them and support them in general education classes. In fact, our Full Inclusion model is built on the premise that with proper support, all of our students can find success being fully included in general education. But right now, our students don't always receive the proper support because their teachers aren't supported.

Case managers’ current assessment loads are unbearable. Each initial assessment takes on average 20 hours to complete and our teachers sometimes have many to do concurrently. Often times teachers have to trade off serving their students directly in order to complete hours and hours of legally defensible assessments. Their jobs are impossible to do and our teachers are frankly just burning out. As a result, the students are not getting served in the way they deserve. 

When I talk about Special Ed, make no mistake, I am also talking about General Education classes. Case managers work tirelessly to try to provide General Ed teachers with the tools they need to adapt the curriculum and guide the behavior of their students with special needs. They respond to urgent behavioral crises, allowing the general ed teacher to continue teaching and ALL students to continue learning.

Our model relies on veteran teachers to mentor new ones on how to implement full inclusion. Experienced teachers are exactly what we are losing. There were at least 18 new Special Education Case Manager hired this year. This is a 28% turnover rate, in one year. We still have 2 vacant positions and some positions currently covered by interns who have not yet finished their credential programs.  We are losing our experienced teachers to work in other districts with more sustainable models where they can support their students more successfully.  

We believe that our proposals will REDUCE costs in Special Education as it will reduce legal costs, settlements and hearings because we will have improved the integrity and quality of our program. Previous efforts at cost containment have failed and we need to do something to address the root causes of our high legal costs. 

The current situation is completely unacceptable. We have been discussing this issue since last year and now is the time to act. We need to the District to take our proposal of caseload caps and a limit on assessments seriously because it is the right thing to do for our students and to retain our teachers. 

All last year you heard from us, heartrending story after story, about how difficult it is to remain a teacher in Berkeley. This isn’t just about new teachers at the low end of the salary schedule, although we hold a special concern for them because they are the future of Berkeley schools. Many veteran teachers are also one eviction or financial setback away from being forced to leave the area. Many of us live paycheck to paycheck. 

In the 2018-19 school year Berkeley teachers will be one of, if not the lowest paid teachers in Alameda county. New state revenue will not change this position since Berkeley will receive a smaller amount than nearby districts based on state funding formulas. 

As of the week before school we had 25 direct teaching positions that were unfilled. There were at least 9 subs on the first day of school due to openings. Our openings were across grade levels and subject areas. There are at least 4 vacancies today. These are symptoms of a problem that can’t be ignored. Our district must play catch up. We need to make Berkeley an attractive place to work AND our compensation must reflect the value Berkeley educators bring every day to the lives of their students. 

We know the Board is discussing how to address this. We appreciate the district thinking creatively about how to solve this crisis and we call on the district to significantly raise our compensation in a permanent manner. If this does not occur, our teachers will continue to leave BUSD, not because we want to, but because we need to take care of our own families. 

All of us are here to serve our students, to be part of this Berkeley community, but we need a significant raise and increased support of our Full Inclusion model to make this happen.

Thank You.


Janine Waddell

Vice President, Berkeley Federation of Teachers

Third Grade Teacher at Washington Elementary

Good evening Superintendent Stephens and board members. My name is Janine Waddell and I am the Vice President of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. I’m also a third grade teacher at Washington Elementary, a community that I have been a part of for almost 9 years. 

When I began my career in Berkeley as a student teacher, I quickly fell in love with our full inclusion model. It felt both challenging and rewarding to create a supportive classroom community for all kids. As a student teacher I watched in awe, as all of the pieces to the full inclusion puzzle magically occurred each day. 

Over the years I’ve learned that behind the magic, there lies a struggle...a struggle to make sure that all of those pieces come together each day, even if it means a teacher missing time with their own kids and family, and the struggle to stick with it as the demands become more and more. I still believe in our full inclusion model. I believe it has the potential to provide a sustainable working environment for the teachers who have never stopped serving Berkeley students!

I’ve had the privilege of working closely with our Moderate/ Severe Full inclusion Specialist, Hillary Trainor at Washington year after year. Hillary has operated (with grace) with a caseload of up to 17 kids some years. She and I both agree that the keys to success for our most vulnerable students are consistency and stability.

This means that special education teachers write reports and calculate assessment data during their nights and weekends. It means pulling over on the side of the road to send a mass text out to a student’s team at 7:00 a.m. alerting them of an unforseen schedule change, coordinating several parties to all shift and accommodate. Teachers do this everyday because we love our students. 

There comes a tipping point though...the point where our Special Ed teachers know that this level of work isn’t sustainable, the point at which teachers start asking themselves if they can make a long term career in Berkeley. When there aren’t enough Special Ed teachers at our schools to manage the varying needs of our students, consistency and stability fail. Students aren’t able to receive their services from consistent experts, our highly trained case managers. 

We ask you to prioritize the need for increased support within our full inclusion model. We ask you to prioritize retention of our expert case managers. We ask you to prioritize all of our students. 

Thank you. 


Alexa Asturias

Moderate/ Severe Full Inclusion Specialist, Cragmont Elementary

Hello, my name is Alexa Asturias, and I am a moderate/severe inclusion specialist at Cragmont Elementary School. This is the start of my second year as a teacher. The best parts of the year are seeing students have that “aha!” moment or realize how independent they can actually be. In order to continue having these moments, I need to have time to work directly with students--right now, this time does not always exist.

I started off last year, my first year of teaching, with a caseload of eleven. Five of my students had 1:1 all day support written into their IEPs. Only four IAs showed up for the first five weeks of school. So for the first five weeks of school, I was reliving my paraprofessional days, while learning to assess students and write IEPs, and all the other stresses of being a first year teacher. My days began at 7am and ended around 9pm. Teachers at my school were getting antsy, asking me questions like, “When will you start instruction?” and “where is the modified work this student needs?” and “Have you found the time to assess this student?” -- all questions I couldn’t answer.

BUSD boasts itself as a full inclusion district, so much so that families are flocking here to enroll their children. My fellow case managers and I work hard to make full inclusion work, but there needs to be more of us to make our full inclusion program function the way it is intended.

I need support in these forms: funding for materials for students, and higher compensation to help me continue to live in the bay area and work for BUSD. Caseload caps, so that I am not spending prep time finishing hours of paperwork instead of modifying work for students. Relief from the ever increasing initial assessments that deserve more time than I have in a day. Trainings so that I can do my job better. Caseload caps and a limit on assessments would completely change the quality of my work and allow me to thrive here, because my students would be getting the support they deserve. These are some supports that will make a difference. If I don’t get this support my students are negatively impacted, and I’m not sure I can stay in this district.

You have the power to change this.


Sharif Musaji

Teacher, Berkeley High School

My name is Sharif Musaji, and this is my first year full year as a teacher at Berkeley High School.This is also my second year as a father. When I first found out about my daughter,I realized it was probably my last chance to pursue my dream of becoming a teacher. So 3 months before her due date, I started grad school. When I made this decision, I knew what I was getting into. The stress. The low pay. The student debt. I still made this choice because it was my dream, because I believe in and love the work, and I was ready to make those sacrifices. Still, I have found myself consistently stunned by the way all the sacrifices add up. Early mornings and late evenings. Meetings crammed into whatever 15 minutes we can find. Lunches taken up by student crises. Preps sacrificed to help other teachers. Purchasing notebooks, crackers, granola bars, and so many tissues for students. But that’s the work, right? It’s just part of the gig. 

But even in my short time teaching, I’ve seen how the sacrifices can become too much, and I wonder how long until they become too much for me. In fact, part of the reason I teach at BHS is because another teacher was pushed out. Like me, they had a new child. But after their childcare fell through, suddenly leaving them few options, they made the decision to leave mid-year. I was asked to replace them. That teacher was also just as passionate and idealistic as I am, they loved their job and their students. They even graduated from the same Master’s program as I did. Yet one financial emergency forced them to make a hard decision, and relocate somewhere more affordable. It is absurd that even with a masters’ degree, teachers struggle to pay for everything a new family needs.

For the sake of our students, teachers should not be one crisis from being forced to make impossible decisions. I worry that without action, without showing that we truly value students’ education and the teachers that provide it, it is only a matter of time before the sacrifices become too much, and more teachers are forced to make similar decisions.


Lila Wilkinson

Mild Moderate Teacher,  Malcolm X Elementary

My name is Lila Wilkinson. I’ve been a Special Education teacher at Malcolm X for a decade. I’m the product of Berkeley Public Schools. I went to Malcolm and as a child I  struggled to learn to read. After graduating from UC Berkeley with honors and my master’s, I came back to Malcolm to work with kids that I relate to. The joy I find in my job is very personal.  

Last year, BUSD experienced a mass exodus of special ed teachers. We started the school year with 9 Special Ed vacancies. I’ve watched dedicated colleagues FLEE this position and this district. This is demoralizing and detrimental to our students and school communities. 

We’ve been coming to the board for years suggesting solutions, warning of burnout, and that the workload is preventing us from delivering and sustaining the level of service we know our students deserve. 

Berkeley’s Full Inclusion model is unlike any nearby district. Our services and teaching depends on extensive collaboration with gen ed, families, DIS providers, speech, OTs, behaviorists and IAs. We’re required to maintain and write mountains of legally binding paperwork and documentation. 

Last year, I was part of a BFT Special Ed Working Group where we researched surrounding districts. For a year we collected data and information from our members PreK to high school. Caseload size and the high number assessments result in less student support. 

BUSD is now at the bottom in Alameda County for total teacher compensation, ranking 18th out of 20 districts. Thanks to our community, Gen Ed teachers in Berkeley have significantly lower class sizes than the state average, meanwhile, special ed teacher’s caseloads are too high and as a district we aren’t able to realize the vision of full inclusion. For the first time I am thinking about whether I need to move on, and it’s painful.

We believe the students in need of the most support should be our collective priority. 

We demand caseload caps and assessment limits in our contract NOW because our students deserve better!