In the encounters I have had with the parents and children of Berkeley, I have found that the overwhelming majority of them support the work to rule action. I know that they don’t find it easy, but all of them understand the fundamental human right that people should be paid for the hours they work.
They also understand that many of the wonderful things the teachers have been doing for their students have been done on donated time and should not
be taken for granted or as an educational right. At the high school, some teachers donate their time to take students to Washington, Costa Rica, even Italy. They help run clubs, organize the small schools, chaperone dances and sporting events. Many of my colleagues volunteer their time to help our school have some of the highest average AP scores in the nation. Most of the countless hours are donated time, and I am sure that the primary and middle school teachers can say the same.
The truth is, if the board’s proposed pay cuts go through, in the future much of our district will be in a permanent state of “work to rule.” The massive increases in heath care costs charged by the district will force many teachers to take extra assignments or second and third jobs to make ends meet. There will be no time for educational enrichment needed in a vibrant educational community.
Many younger teachers, like myself, are saddled with student debt and can only afford to live in a shared housing situation. Some of us live in outlying communities like Oakland, Hayward, or Richmond. So I ask you, why should these young energetic teachers, who are the future educational foundation of Berkeley, continue to commute to a district which steadily insists on eroding teacher compensation? Speaking with some of the younger teachers, I know that morale is low, and I am sure that some of them are using their “work to rule” time after school to look into opportunities in other districts. We love our students but we also have dreams for the future—to perhaps own a home and raise a family in Berkeley—and we ultimately cannot work in a district whose offers are nothing more than pay cuts that make our dreams impossible.
I believe the Berkeley community supports education for their children. They generously voted in Measure B, not to benefit the teachers or the board, but to reduce the class sizes for the children. Maybe some day I’ll be able to afford a house in Berkeley and pay taxes that support Measure B. Every day I see parent volunteers helping run the school and helping teachers in their classes. The Berkeley community understands the fundamental importance of education for their children, and I believe If the “progressive” board continues to insist on cutting teacher pay and driving away quality teachers, there will be a referendum: it will be in
the next school board elections.
The district has attempted to confuse the public in a massive PR effort claiming they don’t have enough money for raises. They blame Arnold for reneging on his promises (rightfully so). They also produce figures and budgets from various sources, accountants, and auditors. But let’s make it clear—teachers aren’t asking for a raise—they are fighting against massive pay cuts proposed by the district. Teachers believe in fiscal responsibility and saving for a rainy day. Teachers are also opposed to sacrificing essential services for the children just to support their pay. We understand that we aren’t in agreement on the fiscal realities of the future. That is why our proposal asks the district, “If there actually is a surplus, please allocate some of it to help off set the pay cut.”
I believe that the people of Berkeley feel that children have a right to an education. They also understand and believe in the fundamental rights of workers to be paid for their work and to protest injustice. If we have to “work to rule” and take outside jobs, we will. If the district insists on further cuts and we have to strike, we will. Teachers have families to support. Our labor actions aren’t holding the students’ hostage for a pay raise. We are fighting against a pay cut, and all workers have a right to protest and to refuse to work without pay. We’re not just fighting for ourselves, we are also fighting for the pay which allow us to have the enriching and continually improving schools that the district seems determined to destroy . In the upcoming days, I hope more of the community joins us in asking the board to not drastically cut teacher pay if money materializes from Sacramento. I believe the teachers and the community want what’s best for the children—a nurturing and challenging education that is different from the factory model found across the nation—we just need to convince the school board, our elected officials, the
Gen Kogure is a teacher at Berkeley High School.›