BUSD administrators will hold budget hearing on March 29 in city council chambers

Late last week, 48 teachers in the Berkeley Unified School District opened their mailboxes to find bad news: a pink slip.

In order to meet state mandates, the district sent out preliminary layoff notices to 28 probationary teachers and 20 permanent faculty, according to Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. Twenty-one of the notices went to teachers at Berkeley High, mostly in the English, Science, and Spanish departments, she said.

The number “was higher than I expected,” said Campbell.

The notices don’t mean that the layoffs will necessarily happen, but the teachers’ contract required they get word by last week.  Final notices will be issued on May 15.

BUSD is projecting a $3 million to $3.6 million budget deficit for 2012-2013, which could grow to $6.8 million if voters do not adopt any of the plans to raise taxes on the November ballot. The district will eliminate the deficit by taking  $750,000 from reserves, $400,000 from other state revenue, and making $1.9 million in cuts, according to Mark Coplan, a spokesman for the district. The school board is still discussing the best way to make those cuts.

“Up until now we were using job stimulus dollars to prop things up,” said Coplan.

Chances for passage of a new tax initiative increased greatly last week when Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Federation of Teachers decided to combine elements of their dueling initiatives into one overreaching initiative for the November ballot. It would raise $8 billion a year for the state budget.

There is another initiative on the ballot, one that targets just public school education.

The measure, put forward by Molly Munger, a Los Angeles attorney whose father is Warren Buffet’s partner, would assess taxes on a sliding scale.

BUSD administrators will hold a public budget session on March 29 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at the City Council chambers. The idea is to inform the community about the projected budget cuts and gather feedback, said Coplan.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...