Posters on display at a Day of Action rally in front of BUSD offices on March 2. Photo: Chris Hammond.

By Chris Hammond

About 85 Berkeley school teachers might not have a job next school year if California’s budget doesn’t improve. At Wednesday’s Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education meeting, staff reported that the district would have a tough time re-hiring many of them, all of whom are temporary teachers.

Teachers will not find out until this summer whether they will be hired back. That’s because the state education budget hinges on proposed June ballot measures to extend and increase taxes needed to keep teachers on the payroll.

“Our practice is to send notices to them all, and then bring them back as we get vacancies,” said BUSD Assistant Superintendent Delia Ruiz.  “We have to respect the budget, but we don’t want to lose good teachers.”

State law requires notices be sent out by March 15th. The 85 temporary teachers, some full-time, some part-time, work the equivalent of 60 full-time teachers. All of them signed one-year contracts ending in June.

But there’s a chance that no vacancies will be available come Fall. That’s because Berkeley faces a $3.7 million drop in state revenue, or about $330 for each student, without the passage of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot measures.

“The state is severely underfunding our schools,” said Berkeley Federation of Teachers union President Cathy Campbell. “This needs to be addressed so we don’t have to put our teachers through this every year.”

Like most districts, Berkeley is preparing two budgets. One assumes that voters will pass the tax measures. The other assumes the ballot measures will fail, leading to more layoffs.

Teacher pink slips, like spring flowers, have bloomed all over the state. San Francisco schools sent notices to 334 teachers and teacher aides. At least 400 Oakland teachers and staff will receive one.

In Berkeley, the number could have gone higher, but BUSD’s budget is in better shape than that of some of its neighbors. Generous city tax payers have supported a parcel tax and bond campaign that brings in about $22 million a year. Thanks to the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP), K-3 classrooms average only 20 students for each teacher. BSEP also funds the music program in grades 4-8, and enrichment programs district-wide.

BSEP accounts for 20% of the district’s budget. Measure BB, a school maintenance parcel tax passed in 2000, accounts for another 5%.

“That’s a large piece of the pie,” said Deputy Superintendent Javetta Cleveland. Cleveland tracks the district budget.

Berkeley also set aside some of last year’s federal Jobs Bill money. That made sense because the state has a history of undercutting school districts’ share of revenue. Schools received only 82% of what they were promised per student last year. This year they expect only 80%. The state also failed to fund a cost-of-living adjustment the last few years.

So what’s a school district to do? Cleveland said BUSD has made slight reductions in staff and contracts all along. The district also scored savings by re-structuring debt last year. The bottom line is that the school district right now sits $4.1 million above its mandated 3% reserve.

“Other school districts haven’t done the due diligence that should have been made,” Cleveland said. “Some haven’t made cuts all along.”

Cleveland told board members on Wednesday that that reserve would dry up quickly without further cuts. If new tax measures fail, Berkeley schools would be nearly $5 million in the red by fiscal year 2012-2013. “There’s no way to rely on reserves,” Cleveland said.

Which brings the conversation back to temporary teachers. Ruiz told board members that the cost savings if those teachers are not rehired would be $5.1 million.

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