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District still short teachers, despite pay raise

By Ben Lumpkin Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday February 28, 2001

Even after teacher salaries jumped 9.5 percent last year as part of new four-year contact, Berkeley Unified School District is struggling to recruit the teachers it needs. 

Jefferson Elementary School Principal Laura Saunders says she needs “bodies” -- people to help with a crushing work load and free her for some critical work that she can only dream about today, such as compiling data to determine her staff’s most urgent professional development needs. 

“Having some additional support at the elementary level is critical,” Saunders said, citing a need for bilingual  

teachers and more teachers in the school’s literacy program. 

Beyond these specifics needs, Saunders said she just needs more teachers overall to help spread the work load and give all teachers more time for professional development. Currently Jefferson Elementary teachers have only two days of professional development at the beginning of the school year, Saunders said.  

“They need more time to develop lessons and practice them,” Saunders said. 

She said this would allow teachers to learn more effective instructional strategies in the critical areas of literacy and numeracy. 

For Berkeley High Principal Frank Lynch the situation is even more pressing. Lynch said he could have to recruit as many as 20 new teachers by the end of the summer just to meet Berkeley High’s basic needs next year.  

Although the latest teachers’ contract will bring Berkeley teacher salaries a little above the median for 30 comparable school districts in the state, Lynch worries teachers could be lured away by higher paying opportunities in nearby districts.  

While the pay range for first-year teachers started at $31,778 before the new contract, it now begins at $36,337. Under the current contract, the high end of the range will reach $63,335 in four years. 

But in the nearby Hayward Unified School District the pay range stands at $43,848 – $73,000, said Brenda Carter-Stroud, administrative secretary for the Hayward Unified School District Personnel Department. 

Citing this discrepancy, Lynch said teachers could end up saying to themselves, “All I have to do is drive further south every day.” 

“Your in a competitive market place,” Lynch said. “If you don’t do something to jack salaries up, you’re going to be behind the eight ball.” 

The BUSD’s first estimate for next year’s budget calls for increasing the total outlay for teacher salaries another 3.9 percent, from $24.9 million to $25.8 million. But with the district facing a potential budget shortfall of several million dollars, it’s too early to say what next year’s increase will be, according to Berkeley Federation of Teachers President Barry Fike. 

And salaries aren’t the only obstacles for the district in overcoming its recruitment and retention challenges, said Shirley Issel, Vice President of the BUSD school board. 

“(The School district’s) bureaucracy is not even into the 80s,” Issel said, decrying a failure to generate important data to help various school administrators do their jobs. “We don’t know how many employees are on the books. Many have not been evaluated in a timely fashion if ever.” 

Bureaucratic disarray is bad for morale, Issel said, because it creates a gulf between the district’s leadership and its employees. 

“We have an inability to hold anyone accountable for doing their job,” Issel said. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” 

Still, BFT’s Fike said things have come a long way. He said Berkeley’s teacher salaries today “are approaching a level where we would be competitive,” as compared to just a few years ago when they were near the bottom of the list for 30 comparable schools. 

“Teacher transiency is a problem statewide,” Fike added, because teachers with advanced degrees can earn more by simply shifting to more lucrative professions.  

“Berkeley teachers have a lot of things really going for us,” Fike said, citing the high availability of grants for teachers pursuing special projects, large investments in “enrichment” programs such as music and the arts, and a bond measure passed last year that promises to rebuilt the district’s maintenance department, ending years of frustration when maintenance issues were not adequately addressed.  

BUSD Elementary Schools have an added recruitment advantage, Fike said: they are very attractive to teachers because of their relatively small size compared to other districts in the state. 

Fike said one of the next hurdles to tackle is the issue of finding affordable housing “for teachers to really be able to afford to live in the areas where they teach.” 

Fike said the BFT is working with the University of California and the City of Berkeley on a project that would build affordable housing for public employees above the parking lots at the Ashby BART station. 

But the key to winning the recruitment battle may lie in the district’s academic reputation, according to Jefferson Elementary School’s Saunders. 

“I think that Berkeley has an edge in that people see us as a progressive district, which we are, and people want to come here,” Saunders said. “Throughout the state we’re really known for doing what’s right for children. And that’s the bottom line for teachers.”