Teachers’ Union Rejects BUSD Contract By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday March 29, 2005

The Berkeley Federation of Teachers has publicly rejected the Berkeley Unified School District’s offer of a 1.2 percent teacher pay raise, saying that the contract offer would actually amount to a $2,000-a-year net loss to teachers when coupled with the district’s medical benefits proposals. 

BFT President Barry Fike said in a telephone interview last week that “no settlement is in sight.” 

BUSD Public Information Officer Mark Coplan revealed the district’s offer in an interview in the Daily Planet last Tuesday. The BFT issued their reply following a day-long bargaining session last Thursday between union and district contract negotiators through the state-appointed mediator. The Thursday meeting was the second of two bargaining sessions held last week. 

The next bargaining session is scheduled for April 21, but with an ongoing teacher “work to rule” action having a continuing effect throughout the district, representatives of both sides said they were attempting to move up the date for the next round of contract talks. 

Up until now, details of those talks have been secret. 

But Coplan said the district decided to release details of its contract offer “because the community made it clear to us that they wanted some information on what was going on.” Coplan said that BUSD Superintendent Michele Lawrence released the information only after clearing it with the school district’s attorney. 

Lawrence was unavailable for comment. 

According to Coplan, Lawrence made a request of BFT representatives at last Monday’s bargaining session that “any future information from the negotiations be put out jointly by the BFT and the BUSD.” 

On Wednesday of last week, however, after BUSD’s contract offer appeared in the Daily Planet, BFT instead sent out a document to its members entitled “BFT Negotiations Update.” In the document, later released to the Planet, the BFT said that “until now, BFT has refrained from disclosing either side’s proposal details. However, now that BUSD has chosen to publicly announce their specific raise proposal [in the Daily Planet] and since they have done so without providing it within the context of their total compensation proposal, BFT felt it was important to inform [its members] of the bigger picture.” 

In a flyer released at the same time as the update, the BFT estimated that the district’s 1.2 percent salary increase proposal would amount to an average of $647 in extra pay for Berkeley teachers in 2005-06. The union said that the district offered no salary increase for 2006-07. 

In addition, the union says that “the District offered to pay one-fourth of an expected 12 percent increase in medical benefits for 2005-06 and to pay for zero percent of an equally large increase in 2006-07. If we were to accept this ‘offer,’ the average teacher would pay an additional contribution of over $2,710 to benefits during the next two years. That’s a net loss of over $2,000.” 

The BFT flyer called the district benefits proposal “particularly dangerous for teachers with children. Their net loss ranges from $2,768 to $3,971, depending on their health plan.” 

In addition to comparing salary and benefit proposals, the BFT negotiations update also compared proposals on the other issue dividing the two sides: class size. The BFT said that the BUSD “proposes contract provisions centered around class size averages” without a maximum class size cap, a policy which, the union says, has “resulted in the dramatic class size increases we have experienced over the last few years.” The BFT says it has proposed both class size averages and a class size limit of 30 students for kindergarten through fifth grade, 32 for sixth, seventh and eighth grades, and 33 for ninth through twelfth grades. 

Asked if the public release and counter-release of negotiating positions by the two sides might hurt the ongoing mediation effort, Coplan said, “potentially,” but added that “the district has looked over the union’s release, and we don’t think there’s anything in it that is detrimental to the negotiation effort.” Coplan said that “we’re still hoping we can work together” with the union to put out joint releases from the negotiations, rather than separate releases by each side. 

Meanwhile, BFT president Barry Fike said that the union is mobilizing its members to attend the April 6 meeting of the BUSD Board of Directors “to express their frustration about the district’s contract position.” Fike said that a rally is planned for the steps of Old City Hall shortly before the 7 p.m. starting time of the meeting.›