The transition from a seven- to a six-period day at Berkeley High School, slated for September, has put school administrators and teachers at odds.
Teachers claim that the district cannot unilaterally institute the change because it would violate their union contract. District officials argue that the shift would not violate their pact with teachers.
Today, the Berkeley Unified School District and the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, the local teachers’ union, are scheduled to meet with an independent arbitrator to discuss the issue.
The current teachers’ contract, built on a seven-period model, calls on teachers to instruct for five periods, plan for one period and supervise students – usually in the hallway during class – for another. According to BFT President Barry Fike, teachers often use their time on hall duty to catch up on work and grade papers.
The union says the shift to a six-period day would eliminate the supervisory period, altering the contract. A change in the contract, the union argues, must be handled in formal negotiations.
But BUSD Superintendent Michele Lawrence said the term “supervision period” can refer to any period of time – not necessarily a traditional, full instructional period. Under this interpretation, the district could assign a teacher to supervise the front gate in the morning and still fall within the parameters of the existing contract.
BFT President Barry Fike countered that the word “period” refers to a traditional instructional period throughout the contract.
“This is an issue of interpretation,” said Lawrence. “The best way to settle these kinds of things is to go to a mediator.”
If the independent arbitrator sides with the union and throws the issue into contract negotiations, Fike said BFT will probably not oppose the six-period day. But the union will ask for concessions on other contract issues in exchange for its support, he said.
“All we want to do is negotiate it,” Fike said. “We need some trade-offs.”
Fike declined to detail the “trade-offs” the union would seek.
If the BFT membership refused to move to a six-period day, it could wreak havoc at the high school, which is in the midst of scheduling the six-period day for the fall. But Fike said he does not anticipate union opposition to the shift.
Fike said he does not expect the arbitrator, Morris E. Davis of Oakland, to issue a decision for at least a week. Davis did not immediately return calls from the Daily Planet.