Berkeley Teachers Demonstrate as Contract Negotiations Continue

Photo: Berkeley teachers passed out fliers Tuesday to raise awareness about their contract negotiations.
Salgu Wissmath/Staff
Berkeley teachers passed out fliers Tuesday to raise awareness about their contract negotiations.

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Berkeley Federation of Teachers

Members of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers raise awareness over issues surrounding their contract.

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Members of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers attempted to raise the profile of their contract negotiations Tuesday by passing out fliers to parents throughout the day.

Berkeley Unified School District teachers, who demonstrated in front of 19 elementary, middle and high schools yesterday, have been working without contracts since their previous contract expired on June 30.

"We want the community to know that we're concerned about the pace of negotiations," said Cathy Campbell, president of the teachers' union. "We feel like these are really critical issues that affect the students and teachers, and we need to be moving really officially and really productively towards getting a new contract."

School Board President John Selawsky and District Spokesperson Mark Coplan said yesterday that they did not have enough information to comment. Superintendent Bill Huyett did not return calls for comment.

The teachers' union is asking for a cost of living increase in addition to an increase in the amount of time child development teachers have for parent conferences. The union is also requesting the continuation of a system that automatically allocates raises for teachers based on the district's annual revenue.

This is not the first time teachers from the district have gone without a contract. When a contract expired in 2003, it took until 2005 for officials to renegotiate.

"In that two-year period, there was a lot of strife, a lot of emphasis on negotiations, a lot of emphasis on teacher protest," Campbell said. "We would like to move away from a long, prolonged, drawn-out struggle like last time."

But proposed mid-year budget cuts from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in combination with the recent economic downturn are making the negotiations difficult, Campbell said. Berkeley schools are facing a $3.7 million cut in funding as well as a threat of layoffs.

"Even though we're in this very difficult financial time, we can still resolve this contract because it doesn't commit district money that it doesn't have," Campbell said. "But if there's new money, we get our fair share."

Berkeley High School math teacher Ira Holston picketed in front of the district central office yesterday. He said he is concerned that the time spent protesting on the contract issue is pulling his attention from the classroom.

"We don't have a contract for the next school year, which means I don't get a raise and I don't get a cost of living allowance," Holston said. "We're constantly fighting."

Parents were generally supportive of the demonstrating teachers yesterday.

"I'm concerned because I think all of our kids deserve an education," said Susan Wittstock, mother of a Berkeley High School student. "I know it's challenging in these economic times to ask for things that are rightful to get because people are worried about how the budget is going to be, but it needs to be dealt with."

Several high school students who watched as their teachers picketed in front of the district office during lunchtime said they were also worried.

"I feel like it might suck if the teachers don't come back and people will be really mad," said sophomore Bridget Hall. "It's pretty messed up. If they want to keep working, they should still have their contracts."


Contact Keena Batti at [email protected]

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