Berkeley Schools' Budget Decrease May Result in Work-Force Cutbacks

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Berkeley Unified School District staff and faculty may face layoffs during the next month as a result of a $5 million shortfall in the district's budget.

State law mandates the district to deliver notices to employees who have even the slightest possibility of being cut by March 15, which some teachers say is unfair.

Barry Fike, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, said the district should let teachers know what their chances of being fired are so the notices don't cause unnecessary concern.

"The primary concern at this point is that there will be messages sent out that will alarm teachers, cause them to leave the district, and that we will find ourself scrambling in August to hire new teachers," Fike said.

Superintendent Michele Lawrence, however, said it is important to make budget cuts according to a worst-case scenario prediction and then try to reduce the size of the cuts and minimize the number of layoffs.

"There will be notices given to a lot of people, but not all may be sustained," Lawrence said at a public forum Monday.

But the union does not fear the possible cuts because enough teachers may resign for their own personal reasons, allowing others to remain employed, Fike said.

"The school district loses a certain amount of teachers each year due to various life circumstances including moving, maternity leave or retirement," he said.

He said those numbers may balance the number of necessary

budget-related layoffs.

But the district will not have such numbers until after the March 15 deadline.

"They want to cover themselves by sending out those notices, but hopefully in the next few weeks we will get a clear idea to give the teachers a clear indication as to whether or not the layoffs will be real," Fike said.

Lawrence said she hopes the board will take action at the upcoming Feb. 27 meeting. At Monday's forum, she acknowledged that many decisions have been made without extensive public discussion.

"Things have been going very fast because we haven't had a lot of choices," she said, adding that administrators will continue to include residents in the decision-making process.

The "grieving process" begins after the warning letters are distributed. It will include an "anger phase" and a "bargaining stage," Lawrence said.

She said they expect some to point fingers and make accusations. She said some school officials may try to dodge the budget cuts and force them upon others in the schools.

"This stage can be detrimental to the organization because it detracts from our mission of the best service to all kids," Lawrence said.

Maintaining unity, balance and fairness will be Lawrence's goal for the process, said district spokesperson Marian Magid.

"She hopes that we as a community move through the stages of anger and bargaining to the stage of acceptance and work together to make this a better place for kids to learn," Magid said.

Fike said the teachers plan to play one of the lead roles in the community decision-making process.

"We're not just going to sit around and be victims in this whole thing," he said. "We're the ones at the forefront at the instruction delivery, the ones who are directly affected by all the programs and changes that are made. Without teacher input, there are going to be decisions made in the dark."


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