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Teacher union OKs 6 periods

By David Scharfenberg
Friday October 11, 2002

The Berkeley Unified School District and Berkeley Federation of Teachers have reached a tentative agreement solidifying the controversial six-period day at Berkeley High School. 

But if the rank-and-file membership of the teacher’s union rejects the agreement in the coming weeks, the high school, which moved to the six-period schedule in September, will have to revert to the traditional seven-period day in the spring. The switch, said district officials, would create significant scheduling and staffing problems. 

“It would be quite difficult,” said Superintendent Michele Lawrence. 

In a straw poll Thursday, Berkeley High teachers approved of the district-union agreement by a narrow majority, with 62 in favor, 46 opposed and one abstention. 

The vote is not official. But the union’s executive committee was set to weigh the results Thursday evening, after the Daily Planet’s deadline, and decide whether to recommend approval or rejection of the agreement to the districtwide membership. 

Teachers at all schools, including Berkeley High instructors, will formally vote on the deal over a two-week period, from Oct. 14 to Oct. 25. 

Berkeley High teachers opposed to the six-period day have raised a number of concerns. 

They have complained about an increase in the length of class time from 45 to 55 minutes per period, a reduction in electives for students and the elimination of hall duty for teachers. Hall duty, they argue, increases student safety and provides instructors with time to catch up on their work. 

Supporters embrace the extra class time with students and say the shift from a seven- to a six-period day has eliminated gaps in student schedules – reducing the number of students wandering the campus and improving safety. 

The Board of Education approved the switch from a seven- to a six-period day in February, arguing that the move would save money for the cash-strapped district, which faces a $3.9 million budget shortfall, and eliminate gaps in students’ schedules. 

But the union argued that the district could not unilaterally approve the switch to a six-period day without going into contract negotiations. In August, an arbitrator sided with the union and required the district to go to the bargaining table. 

In a set of six difficult negotiation sessions that concluded Monday, the union agreed to the six-period day in exchange for a number of concessions. 

Under the terms of the agreement, the length of most classes would decline from 55 to 54 minutes, while the “passing time” between periods will increase from six to seven minutes. 

Other parts of the deal call for three shortened school days over the course of the year, with teacher-led staff development in the afternoon, and a $1,000 bonus for any teachers who inform the district by Feb. 7 that they intend to retire at the end of the year. 

Fike said the union was unable to get all the concessions it sought. BFT, for instance, could not win greater protections for teachers seeking short-term leave. 

But, he said compromise is part of the negotiations process and added that he is generally pleased with the deal. 

“Overall, if you add up the different pieces of the package, we feel positive,” he said. 

But Fike acknowledged that many teachers have raised concerns about the agreement and the six-period day in general, and said he simply doesn’t know whether the rank-and-file membership will approve the deal in the end. 


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