In a surprising twist, a state mediator issued a “total press and information blackout” Tuesday in connection with the contract negotiations between the Berkeley Unified School District and the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.
That means people who attend tonight’s special board meeting expecting to hear what offers are on the table will walk away disappointed.
“I just wanted to make sure that negotiations stayed within the negotiating room,” mediator Ron McGee said Tuesday night. “I asked the parties to agree to the blackout.”
That action applies to “all matters related to, and/or issues under discussion,” and must be followed by anyone who knows anything about the negotiations: board members, district administrators, union staff and teachers.
The blackout is a sudden shift from comments made a week ago by School Board President Joaquin Rivera and BFT President Barry Fike. Rivera said it was possible that after this week’s mediation session, held Tuesday, that it was possible that the two sides would release more information about the negotiations, including information on what’s currently on the table. And Fike told the Daily Planet that the union had been willing to release much of that information for some time.
When reached by telephone Tuesday night, Rivera said that based on his immediate interpretation of the mediator’s decision, he was unable to offer any comment on the reasons the blackout was imposed. Fike did not return a phone call Tuesday night.
The mediator’s decision casts shadows on the likelihood of an informational forum scheduled for next week. The event was supposed to be an opportunity for the community to direct questions to the union and the school district.
“That’s outrageous, absolutely outrageous,” PTA Council President Mark Coplan said, after hearing about the blackout. “Publicly, both sides accepted the challenge to this event, and apparently privately, one side put a nix to it.”
Late last week, the PTA Council had assumed responsibility for organizing the forum. The event was initiated by the newly formed group Parents For Increased Salaries for Teachers, but was adopted by the neutral PTA Council. The League of Women Voters had agreed to moderate the forum at Berkeley Arts Magnet School.
While revelations of negotiation stances won’t be on the agenda, the school board will hold a special meeting tonight – it’s actually a combination of two workshops – from 7 to 10 p.m. in Board/Council Chambers in Old City Hall, at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The first 90 minutes will feature a discussion of the budgets for the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 fiscal years, and consideration of budget reallocations.
Those reallocations include a proposal to cut the budget by $2 million through a variety of actions, including cutting nine teaching positions, eliminating a school psychologist position and chopping $10 per student in school supplies.
The second 90 minutes will address the report prepared by the Facilities Maintenance and Security Advisory Committee. That document called for the school district to significantly increase its corrective and preventative maintenance spending.
No action will be taken by the board tonight on either the budgetary or maintenance issues.