Election Section

COMMENTARY BUSD Employees Have No Confidence in District’s Fiscal DataBy GEN KOGURE

Friday May 13, 2005

I’m not going to get into a popularity debate with recent letter writers to the Daily Planet. I’m sure that the parents who take time to talk to me support the teacher actions while parents who are frustrated with work-to-rule will talk to each other. At first, I was taken aback by their claims of fiscal realities, but I shouldn’t have been surprised since the district has a full time public relations officer who has repeatedly used public funds to misinform parents about the budget. There’s a historic reason why teachers, clerical, and plant workers have no confidence in the district’s fiscal data: 

1) Despite repeated requests not to do so, the district always uses old (2003) data in negotiations or press releases. 

2) Misrepresentation of facts. We all know that 3 percent of the budget must be kept as a reserve and it is currently at 1.5 percent. The district claims in their propaganda that it must be at 3 percent next year citing the threat of county take over. The district continues to pull out this figure even though the 3 percent is supposed to be phased in over several years. A board member recently stated 2.5 percent as the target. So which is it? 2.5 percent? 1.9 percent? 2.9 percent? 

3) Budgetary shell games. At first they claimed their expenses had to take into account Arnold’s new retirement proposal, which would cost the district $700,000. Now that the proposal has been withdrawn, where did this money go? 

4) The district has been repeatedly excoriated by the Union and outside agencies for poor or non-existent internal controls. These included: 

a. Large numbers of out of district students with unverified addresses. 

b. Lack of a cohesive attendance plan and data that causes us to lose huge amounts of ADA funds from the state. 

c. Giving benefits to ineligible extended relatives or paying non existent employees. 

d. Repeated failures in producing any financial data based on reality. Case in point: several years ago the district did a blanket lay off of several hundred teachers in the district. In my department, half of us got laid off despite the fact that enrollment figures indicated that all of us would be needed. We were, of course, all rehired because we were needed, but only after going through multiple hearings with teams of lawyers. I’d like to know how much time and money was wasted on this process when most fourth-graders could answer the question, “If I have 90 students and there are 30 students in a class, how many teachers do I need?” 

5) Almost anyone who has worked for the district will give you a story of the district’s financial ignorance. Errors in pay checks are commonplace and uncountable, one of my colleagues was vastly overpaid and he repeatedly went to payroll to have it corrected. Finally, payroll responded, “here you figure it out and tell us what we should be paying you.” That’s fiscal control. This year I was part of a mathematics curriculum program funded by the NSF. After coming to an agreement with a generous 10 percent overhead/profit, the district tried to overcharge the program by $16,000. Once again, the district was making up numbers out of thin air and they had to be reminded of the actual figures involved. 

I understand that parents were surprised by the suddenness of work-to-rule, and I also realize that work-to-rule is affecting everybody: students, parents, teachers, clerical staff, the administration, and the last thing we want is to strike, which would be devastating for all involved. These actions, however, aren’t meant to leverage public support against the district’s paycut—they are directed at the district and are a consequence of the districts’ unwillingness to bargain in good faith and with truthful fiscal figures. Teachers take on a variety of unpaid and donated duties, ranging from administrative, supervisory, and organizational duties, which the district has increasingly relied on in the past several years. Interestingly, the first offer in three years, a 1.2 percent cost-of-living increase, only came on the table after the teachers instituted work-to-rule. 

Members of the public might believe that the district wouldn’t cut health benefits if they had the money, but I’d like to remind everyone that this is the same district that let teacher salaries slide to the bottom by the late ‘90s. It was only by standing up and protesting that we got back to the median salary level, which has since slipped to the bottom third. I would also remind the public that this is the same district that fired hundreds of teachers, only to rehire them, because they really didn’t care if they wasted money on legal fees or destroyed teacher morale. 

The major demands of the teachers are simple. Class size maximums and the request not to cut teacher pay if money actually materializes. The public doesn’t have to take sides, but I’d expect them to at least ask the district to bargain in good faith and with accurate numbers. 


Gen Kogure is a teacher Berkeley High School.