Edible schoolyard Malcolm X
Students at Malcolm X Elementary. Teachers from Malcolm X will walk through the Lorin District this afternoon to talk about contract negotiations. Photo: Rivka Mason

In commercial districts across Berkeley this afternoon, teachers will be speaking to Berkeleyans about the current state of contract negotiations between the Berkeley Federation of Teachers and Berkeley Unified.

According to Cathy Campbell, president of the BFT, negotiations are “not going smoothly” and teachers want to explain the situation “before we turn to more high stakes actions (such as ‘working to rule’), which hopefully we will not have to do.”

The teachers’ contract expired in June 2012, but that contract was just an extension of the July 2008 agreement, which was intended to last two years. Both the teachers union and the BUSD agreed to extensions with no salary increases during the worst of the economic recession. In this year’s negotiations, the BFT proposed a one-time 10% bonus, paid from part of the BUSD’s $8.7 million ending fund balance.

“We’re in a really good position,” Campbell said. “We should be happy that we have this $8 million. Most of that ending fund balance comes from teachers picking up the cost of benefits. We have enough to do a variety of things.”

The BUSD, however, last week rejected the bonus proposal, and offered a 1% raise for 2013-14. According to the BFT, BUSD negotiators said they needed to “balance the factors” that insure the success of school programs and find the “proper mix” of program expenses and compensation. The BUSD declined to comment on the negotiations.

“Employees have been making sacrifices for the last four and a half years,” Campbell said. “Teachers in Berkeley pay the entire increase whenever the cost of health goes up… [As a result,] they’ve had decreases in take-home pay.”

Campbell said negotiators for the teachers were surprised by the outright rejection of the bonus scheme. “I’m wondering if it wasn’t a little bit of a flub up,” she said. “Maybe something just went wrong.”

“There’s a need to show people that they’re valued. To say you’re not going to share any of it with your teachers and therefore with your employees, has been really alarming,” she said. “Infuriating is the right word to use. We’re much farther apart than I thought we would be.”

The contract negotiations resume next week, on March 14. In response to the BUSD’s 1% wage increase proposal, teachers are proposing an increase of 5.2% of current salaries, retroactive to last July. According to the BFT, that increase would still leave about $4 million in the district’s ending fund balance for program needs and future uncertainties (the ending fund balance is the surplus above the 3% reserve required by law).

“[Former district superintendent] Bill Huyett brought energy and vision and cohesion to this district and said we need to do more, and we have embraced that as teachers,” Campbell said. “Teachers are feeling unappreciated and undervalued, and that capacity to go above and beyond is in danger. It’s causing extreme concern among teachers.”

School board launches new superintendent search [02.13.13]
Fight relaunched to save school nutrition programs [11.19.12]
Berkeley schools show gains on standard tests [10.12.12]

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...