In March, at the start of contract negotiations, Berkeley High teachers got ready to ask local businesses to hang signs in support of educators, a union-wide ritual. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Berkeley teachers will receive a 1% bonus and subsequent 1% raise if a tentative two-year contract agreement with the Berkeley Unified School District is approved later this month. The 2017-18 and 2018-19 agreement, which comes during a period of cost-cutting for California school districts, is the product of a few months of negotiations between the Berkeley Federation of Teachers and BUSD.

The tentative agreement gives union members a one-time bonus equivalent to 1% of their 2017-18 salaries and an ongoing raise of 1% beginning July 2018. They may receive an additional .5%-1.5% bonus in 2018-19, depending on revenue from the state.

Classroom teachers in grades 1-3 would also have more time to prepare for lessons in 2018-19. Those teachers, who currently have far less time to get ready for class than their colleagues in older elementary grades, advocated strongly for the change. The proposed agreement increases both preparation and instruction time for teachers in the younger years, so all 1-5 instructors will have four 45-minute prep periods weekly and 305 minutes of teaching time daily.

At some schools, the district will need to hire new instructors to fill in while classroom teachers are prepping, said Ty Alper, president of the Berkeley School Board.

“We’re excited about the possibilities for additional arts, science, language and P.E. instruction that can occur during the classroom teachers’ prep periods, not to mention the importance of giving our elementary school teachers more time to prepare for class and collaborate with each other,” Alper wrote in an email.

The tentative agreement also includes changes to the parental leave policy to comply with state law, a wage increase for hourly teachers, greater healthcare benefits for preschool teachers and some other new elements.

Berkeley teachers called for more prep time and better pay at a recent School Board meeting. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

“We’re proud of this agreement,” said Cathy Campbell, president of BFT. “Across the state of California, we’re seeing more districts and unions going into the stages of bargaining where you can’t reach an agreement and you’re headed for a strike. The biggest impact on us was very limited resources and we were still able to come to an agreement.”

Increased pension contribution requirements have placed a strain on BUSD and other districts in the state. Though the May revision of the state budget proposal includes a bit more relief than expected, state revenue is growing at a slower rate than costs, and the district is already thinking about potential cuts for 2018-19 to ward off a deficit.

“The costs of the agreement could substantially or fully exceed projected revenue for 2018-19, depending on the State budget. The District may still need to make more budget reductions,” said Javetta Cleveland, BUSD deputy superintendent, in a press release. The salary increase is “modest” to allow the district to better meet its increasing pension obligations, she said.

Some teachers have balked at the 1% increase, the smallest raise for Berkeley educators since the Recession, saying their salaries have not kept pace with the rising cost of living in the Bay Area. Some said higher compensation should have been the top priority in the agreement.

In 2016-17, BFT members received a 3% bonus and a 2% raise, which had been dependent on state funding. In 2015-16, teachers received a 5% increase, including a 1% increase in the district’s health benefit contributions.

Salaries for K-12 teachers currently range from $43,300 to around $90,000.

BFT expects to ratify the agreement this month, and the School Board will likely vote on it on June 28. The current contract expires June 30.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...