Berkeley Unified Employees Face Cuts, Furloughs

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Berkeley Board of Education President Karen Hemphill was hoping for a miracle.

A miracle, she said at a March 10 board meeting, was the only thing that could prevent staff cuts as part of an ongoing effort to eliminate the Berkeley Unified School District's multimillion dollar deficit.

But that miracle never came, and on Wednesday, the board voted to issue layoff notices to about 30 classified district employees.

The layoffs will save about $900,000, a third of the total shortfall, according to district Superintendent William Huyett. The district might also implement two furlough days in the upcoming school year.

The cuts to classified staff positions-or jobs within the district that do not require a teaching credential, like instructional assistants and secretaries­-total about 16 full-time equivalents.

District officials said some employees may be rehired and some positions may be combined.

Many union leaders-including Paula Phillips, president of the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, a local 425-member staff union­-have come out against the cuts. She said that in aiming to trim positions that have the least effect on education quality, the district unfairly targeted classified employees.

"My members do work that allows the teachers to do their work," Phillips said. "Everything we do is vital."

Phillips added the district should have looked elsewhere to make staff cuts.

"We're opposed to the layoffs because they didn't layoff any certificated staff," she said. "They are keeping unnecessary management positions."

At the meeting Wednesday, board members expressed concern at the loss of personnel and discussed potential impacts on the student population.

"I think I can speak for all of the board-it's hard to be at this position," Hemphill said. "(They're) not easy decisions to make. I hope we can unmake them as soon as possible."

The district will also begin negotiations next week with local union leaders to discuss two potential furlough days, which are expected to save approximately $600,000.

Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, said she cannot yet make a statement concerning the furlough days because she has not officially received the proposal. She said she expects to receive it on Monday.

The proposal entails cutting two staff development days, which are not instruction days, meaning that no classroom time would be lost for students.

But that means employees would receive less time for training and development, according to Phillips, who added that the furloughs would represent about 1 percent of the salary of a 10-month employee.

"Right now, the district is not training us in an appropriate fashion," Phillips said. "These (cuts) mean that my members would not get trained."

According to the district's proposed budget from March, if the furlough days are not approved, the alternative plan would reduce district funding for instructional materials, as well as remove older adult programs, adults with disabilities programs and two counselor positions at Berkeley High School.

"We're all in favor of as much teacher development as possible," said Mark van Krieken, vice president of the Berkeley High School Parent Teacher Student Association. "This is a tough one to figure out."


Contact Soumya Karlamangla at [email protected]

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