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BUSD teachers protest layoffs District rescinds 38 layoff notices, offers retirement incentives

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Wednesday April 17, 2002

About 150 teachers and supporters rallied on the steps of the Berkeley Unified School District’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Way headquarters Tuesday afternoon, protesting teacher layoffs scheduled to take effect next year. 

“It shouldn’t be the teachers,” said Jean Whittlesey, a science and health teacher at Berkeley Alternative High School who has received a layoff notice. “We are the foundation of education.” 

The district has issued layoff notices to 173 teachers as part of an effort to cut $5.4 million and balance next year’s budget. According to district figures, 82 of those teachers are “probationary,” meaning they are generally first- or second-year teachers with a preliminary or full credential. Ninety-one of the teachers are “temporary” teachers – generally new instructors who are often on an emergency credential.  

The administration has always planned to rescind many of the layoff notices as the budget picture clears up, and has taken back 38 in the past week, all for probationary teachers, according to Superintendent Michele Lawrence. 



Lawrence said she is “feeling more and more confident” that a “large group of probationary teachers” will retain their jobs. She said it is too early to determine whether any temporary instructors will return. 

Barry Fike, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers announced at the Tuesday rally that the district has agreed to offer retirement incentives to instructors. More retirements, he said, could mean less layoffs. 

Lawrence confirmed the offer. She said the district would likely offer a one-time lump sum, rather than an on-going payment. Lawrence added that the district could only offer the payment if enough teachers agree to take it, making it financially worthwhile for the district.  

Lawrence said she did not know, at this point, how much money the district would provide as an incentive. 

Teachers at the rally lamented the potential loss of young teachers and criticized previous administrators, including former Superintendent Jack McLaughlin, for wreaking havoc on district finances. 

“The people who got us into this mess are gone,” said Cheryl Marsh, a special education teacher at Cragmont. “It’s interesting that the teachers and children are left with the mess.” 

Several teachers suggested the Board of Education, which has approved $3.8 million in cuts thus far, should have trimmed elsewhere. But district officials and school board members have long contended that, with district money heavily invested in staff, significant layoffs are unavoidable. 

Many of the teachers who received notice will take part in layoff hearings with the district Thursday and Friday. The instructors will have the opportunity to challenge any inaccuracies in district records on their seniority and credentials. 

In the end, layoffs will be determined by seniority, with exceptions for less experienced teachers who hold specific types of credentials that no older teachers have.