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More programs may return to high school

By David Scharfenberg
Friday September 27, 2002


One day after reinstating Berkeley High School’s African-American studies department, Superintendent Michele Lawrence said Thursday that she will consider bringing back the English language learners, visual arts and performing arts departments. 

Before this week, the district was poised to fold the African-American studies and English language learners programs into other, unspecified departments and to combine the visual and performing arts programs into one department under the terms of an Aug. 20 agreement with the teacher’s union. 

The move would not have affected the African-American studies, ELL or arts classes offered at the high school, but would have eliminated department chairs and, many feared, meeting time for teachers. 

When details of the agreement surfaced Tuesday, there was a public outcry over the planned consolidation of the 34-year-old African-American studies department, leading to a reinstatement of the department at the Board of Education meeting Wednesday night. 

Lawrence said the district will have to work with the Berkeley Federation of Teachers union to hammer out the details of reinstating African-American studies and any other department. 

“I’m certain we’ll have to go back to the table,” she said. 

BFT President Barry Fike, who has signaled a willingness to renegotiate, said the union is ready to return to the bargaining table and reinstate the departments. 

“We’re very pleased that there seem to be indications from the district that they are willing to renegotiate,” he said. 

One sticking point may be job descriptions and pay for the returning department chairs. 

The Aug. 20 agreement laid out 17 different duties for department chairs, ranging from ordering books to supporting teachers, and provided stipends of $5,000, $3,750 and $2,250, depending on the size of a chair’s department. 

Smaller departments, African-American studies and ELL, were to lose their chairs. District officials pushed for this reduction in the total number of chairs, during the August negotiations, because they hoped to save several thousand dollars for a district $3.9 million in debt. 

Lawrence suggested Thursday that the district was not interested in offering costly stipends to any returning department chairs – in African-American Studies, ELL or the arts – in light of the budget problems. 

Robert McKnight, chair of the African-American studies department, said he could care less about the stipend, as long as the program remains in place. 

“I don’t have a job,” explained McKnight, who led the reinstatement charge. “I’m on a mission.”  

But Fike said he was concerned that any agreement calling on chairs of small departments to perform extra duties without adequate pay could set a dangerous precedent. 

Still, Fike said the overriding concern for the union is bringing back the consolidated departments. He does not expect the salary issue to get in the way. 

“I’m confident that it’s not a stumbling block that can’t be overcome,” he said. 


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