Election Section

Commentary: A Strike Will Destroy What Teachers Want By STEVEN DONALDSON

Friday April 22, 2005

It’s not true that the vast majority of parents support the work-to-rule situation in the Berkeley Public Schools. Virtually every parent I’ve spoken with has been frustrated at the whole evolution of events and felt like their kid has been put in the middle of a complex conflict over benefits without being notified, fully informed and where their kids education has been held hostage to a settlement. 

I’m a parent with two children in the Berkeley school system, a daughter in sixth grade at King and a son in the third grade at Rosa Parks. I’m a complete supporter of public school. I’ve participated in meetings, PTA and events on my own time. I’ve supported Rosa Parks along with other very committed parents and teachers when extensive and inaccurate negative publicity was being circulated last year. 

This work-to-rule move by the Berkeley Federation of Teachers has not and is not getting massive support by parents. It was thrown at us completely by surprise. Most of us were unaware of two years of negotiations when this all began. Many of us are struggling to understand how we can keep our kids focused on schoolwork with no homework—a very mixed message to say the least. 

I think many parents understand the desire for teachers to get a pay increase and to not incur costs of often very expensive, sky rocketing medical plans that have been paid for by the school district up until now. But this issue is occurring in school districts struggling to make their budgets throughout California, not to mention private industry throughout the nation. This is not the school district imposing their expensive health care programs on employees. This is the hard and very unhappy reality of benefit costs going up and someone having to pay for them. If the district pays for these costs where does the money come from? 

BUSD now has a deficit, which puts the district out of compliance with the state mandated 3 percent reserve. Berkeley Unified does not have this and will not have it next year if they go along with the request of the union. I understand this is a major roadblock in the negotiations. It frustrates the teachers but the work-to-rule frustrates the parents as well. 

In 2000 the work-to-rule approach in dealing with contract negotiations worked. At this time the district appeared to be flush with money. The state had no deficit and was in the middle of the dot-com boom flush with a massive surplus. This world is long gone and many Californians are suffering from this. The Bay Area has one of the slowest growing economies in California and the Nation right now. Tax revenues are down significantly in Berkeley and other cities. If it wore not for BCEP money’s and Measure B from the last election Berkeley Schools right now would be facing bankruptcy. 

If the strike option is exercised to make a point about unfair treatment a real tragedy will unfold and everyone will loose. Parents who can, will opt out of the public school system, teachers will go unpaid and the district will loose up to $6,000 per child a year for reduced attendance. The district may loose up to 30% of its revenue and massive layoffs will be necessary. This is a very difficult situation and the kids—my kids—will suffer along with thousands of others. 

I’m not happy to say anyone should get paid less than they deserve. But the reality is school districts, like Berkeley are not giant corporations where the CEO gets a double bonus for cutting pay. It’s about balancing budgets and dealing with reality. 

I support the teachers. I support the district. And I support a creative solution to this long term problem that’s not going to come from a strike or highly adversarial tack ticks that put kids and their education in the middle of the conflict. 


Steven Donaldson is the parent of two Berkeley public school students.