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New high school schedule unfair

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet Staff
Thursday September 05, 2002

An independent arbitrator ruled in favor of the local teachers’ union in a contract squabble with the Berkeley Unified School District over the new six-period class schedule at Berkeley High School. 

The ruling could force the district to dramatically reconfigure its high school schedule, which took hold last week at the start of the school year. But district officials hope to win the union’s blessing on the new schedule in exchange for concessions on other contract matters. 

Berkeley Federation of Teachers President Barry Fike said the union will likely go along with the district and agree to the six-period day in exchange for other concessions. Fike would not elaborate on the concessions BFT will pursue. 

“We certainly have some ideas,” he said. “[But] we don’t want to be rigid going into negotiations.” 

Negotiations start Monday and a second session is scheduled Sept. 12. 

The contract squabble is rooted in a February decision by the Board of Education to shift from a seven- to a six-period day at the high school starting this school year.  

Because the move allowed the school to cut a handful of teaching positions district officials called it a cost-saving measure for a cash-strapped district. The change also allowed the school to expand the length of classes from 45 to 55 minutes. 

But the union argued that the school board could not unilaterally move to a six-period day because the shift would violate its contract. The contract, which operates on a seven-period model, provides that teachers will instruct five periods, prepare during one period and supervise for a seventh period. 

The union contended that the move to a six-period day eliminated the supervision period, violating the contract and requiring formal negotiations. 

But the district argued that a “supervision period” could refer to any period of time, not just a traditional, full class period. Under this interpretation, the district could move to six periods, assign a teacher to supervise the front gate before school and still fall within the parameters of the contract. 

After the two sides failed to reach an agreement they went before independent moderator Morris E. Davis of Oakland on Aug. 2. 

That day Davis issued a preliminary ruling favoring the union. A final ruling, expected to mirror the preliminary finding, is expected soon. 

Associate Superintendent of Human Resources David Gomez said the district is prepared to abide by the arbitrator’s decision and looks forward to productive negotiations. 

“The district wants to continue to meet with the union in a non-adversarial mode,” he said. 

Gomez said the district does not have any proposals for contract concessions to offer BFT in exchange for support for the six-period day, and is curious to hear the union’s suggestions.