A recent editorial by a Berkeley teacher confirmed my fears that teachers are not really hearing the truth about most parents’ opinions about the “work-to” rule. Ask any parent if they support higher pay for teachers and the answer is a resounding yes. We are well aware that the vast majority of teachers are dedicated, committed people that have our children’s best interest at heart. Of course we wish for them to receive the highest wages possible. However, ask a parent if they support the current union work action and I believe the majority will answer no.
The teachers’ union implies that the school superintendent and board have an anti-teacher agenda and, as a result, teachers must fight this agenda with the current work action. But teachers must wonder, as I do, about the district’s incentive to deny an increase in the salary structure. If the money exists, and the future revenue stream seems predictable, why not ensure that salaries keep pace with other districts? Neither the board nor the superintendent benefit from unhappy, under-paid teachers.
In my opinion, the board and superintendent have done a commendable job in providing real facts about the district’s financial situation and their financial priorities. It would seem that there are some additional revenues, along with a series of additional costs. Furthermore, while we have recovered from the recent near-bankruptcy, the district has not yet put aside its required reserve. I have not seen the union challenge these facts. Unless the union knows something about the finances that have not been disclosed, it is tough to see from where the funds for a higher pay-scale can come.
The union’s claim that teachers have received no salary increase over the past several years is also not completely true. Each year Berkeley teachers move through a variety of “steps” and “columns.” Each new step and column is associated with a pay raise. Only the most senior of teachers, those that have achieved all steps and columns identified in the contract, have seen their salaries stay constant. All other teachers have received these standardized raises. It is true that the pay-scale associated with these steps has not changed in the last several years, but the claim that teachers have received no pay increase is specious.
The biggest problem with the union’s work action is the implication that the only things being cut back are “voluntary” activities that teachers only complete in their spare time (like being forced to travel to Italy as a class chaperone). In fact, teachers have stopped preparing class lessons, issuing homework, and grading class room assignments. I find it amazing that these things are not already considered a mandatory part of the teaching day and not required by the existing contract. These items are essential to students’ learning and the union’s refusal to undertake these basic teaching activities is wrong.
Finally, the recent editorial notes that many teachers are looking for greener pastures in other districts. Unfortunately, most BUDS students have no such option. Because we are committed to this school district for the long-term, we parents recognize that the district’s long-term financial stability, the preservation of programs like art, music, science and reading, and teachers’ salaries must be equally balanced.
The teachers’ union has made its point. The board and superintendent must continue to carefully manage its spending and constantly evaluate priorities. It seems obvious that the state’s financial picture must get better and, should the BUDS continue its current approach, its financial situation will also improve. The board is on record as supporting higher teacher pay when finances allow. We all look forward to that time and we respectfully ask that teachers return to a full work day while we work together to solve the issues.
Christopher Hudson is the father of two Berkeley public school students.ô