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School Superintendent: No August layoffs

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet Staff
Friday May 10, 2002

Two new candidates declare for school board 


The Berkeley Unified School District will not pursue a second round of layoffs in August – contrary to reports earlier this week – Superintendent Michele Lawrence said at an eventful Board of Education meeting Wednesday night. 

In other developments, the Board voted unanimously to cut the hours of food service employees despite the pleas of several workers; and two new candidates declared for the November school board race. 

Berkeley High School discipline dean and long-time chair of the African-American Studies Department Robert McKnight said he will run. Seventeen-year-old BHS senior Sean Dugar also threw his hat into the ring. 



The issue of August layoffs is tied to a Tuesday decision by administrative law judge Jonathan Lew.  

Lew sided with several Berkeley teachers who claimed that the district had improperly calculated their seniority and as a result issued improper layoff notices in March.  

Associate Superintendent of Administrative Services David Gomez told the Planet Tuesday that the ruling had thrown a wrench in the district’s plan to cut $5.4 million and balance next year’s budget. Lew’s finding, he said, had prompted the district to consider a second round of layoffs in August. 

Berkeley Federation of Teachers president Barry Fike criticized the district Wednesday for considering August layoffs, arguing that it could lead teachers worried about job security to leave. But Lawrence said definitively that the district will not pursue further layoffs this summer. 

“There is not going to be an August layoff,” she said. 

After the meeting, Gomez said his Tuesday comments on the potential for August layoffs had been misinterpreted. 


Layoff update 

In March, the district issued layoff notices to 91 temporary teachers and 82 probationary teachers. Temporary instructors are generally new teachers, often on an emergency credential. Probationary teachers are generally first- or second-year teachers with a preliminary or full credential.  

The district started rescinding many of the layoff notices for probationary teachers in April. Some of those who still held pink slips challenged the district in layoff hearings April 18-19, and the Lew decision affects those teachers. 

Lawrence said the district would restore sixteen of the teachers affected by Lew’s ruling. She said her “gut feeling” is that the district will be able to restore all the probationary teachers who have received layoff notices and still balance the budget.  

But the union plans to go to court over layoff notices for as many as 40 temporary teachers in the near future.  


Board candidates 

McKnight, in a surprise announcement Wednesday night, said he will run for the school board in November. 

“We have moved beyond the era of protest to the era of process,” he said, declaring that it was time to become more directly involved in the district’s decision-making process. 

In an interview after the meeting, McKnight said he will focus on boosting student achievement if elected to the board. He said the board’s decision this year to cut into double-period science was worrisome and could harm student achievement. 

McKnight said he has deep roots in Berkeley and has received strong support from various African-American community groups.  

Dugar, one of two representatives from the senior class on the high school’s leadership team, said he is running to give students a greater voice. 

“Student empowerment is the solution to the attendance problem, the achievement gap and many other issues facing the district,” said Dugar, who has been sharply critical of Lawrence and the board this year. 

Incumbents Shirley Issel and Terry Doran are up for election this fall. Board member Ted Schultz, who would also be up for re-election in November, will retire at the end of his term, leaving a vacant seat. 

Activists Derick Miller and Nancy Riddle have also declared their candidacies, and nutrition advocate Joy Moore has indicated that she is interested. 


Food workers 

Union representatives and food service workers vigorously protested cuts in workers’ hours Wednesday night, arguing that salary and benefit cuts would be too painful and that workers wouldn’t be able to complete all their tasks with less time on the job. 

“You can’t cut the hours,” said Debra Smith, a food service worker at Thousand Oaks Elementary School. “It’s physically not possible to do the work we need to do.” 

Althea Trotter, who works at Jefferson elementary, said a cut from seven to three-and-a-half hours per day would hit her hard in the pocketbook. 

“The three-and-a-half hours can’t pay my rent,” she said. 

Workers and union representatives called on the district to eliminate a new administrative position in the department and reduce the pay of food services director Karen Candito rather than cut back on workers’ hours. Several directly criticized Candito for the hour reduction plan. 

But Lawrence and members of the board vigorously defended Candito’s management. 

“I think our food services director has done an incredibly wonderful job,” said Lawrence, crediting Candito with skillfully handling several hits to the food services budget this year. 

Lawrence said the cuts approved Wednesday were necessary to balance the district’s cafeteria fund. But she acknowledged the effects on employees. 

“I want to continue to tell our community and our employees how very much I regret the budget crisis we’re in,” she said. 

The district will have to negotiate the affects of the cuts with the workers’ new union representatives from Local 39. The new union took control of a portion of Local 1’s Berkeley membership after an election that drew to a close this week. 

One of the chief concerns raised by the employees was that cuts in hours would lead to only partial coverage of benefits. Lawrence suggested that the district and union might explore combining two part-time jobs into one full-time job to ensure full benefits. The draw-back, she said, is that less people would have jobs.