No Child Left Behind Act Threatens Professional Jobs By SUZANNE LA BARRE

Tuesday March 07, 2006

A provision in the No Child Left Behind Act could threaten the jobs of as many as 76 Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) para-professionals. 

According to the federal mandate, instructional assistants, technicians, specialists and interpreters for the deaf working in Title I-funded school districts must meet a higher level of education by June 30 or risk losing their jobs.  

They must complete at least two years of education at an institute of higher learning, obtain an associate’s degree or take a test demonstrating an instructor’s knowledge of reading, writing and math. 

The law applies only to those hired before Jan. 8, 2002, when college level education was not a job requirement. Newer employees have already met No Child Left Behind standards. 

So far, 110 para-professionals in Berkeley schools have complied; 76 have not. 

The district will vote to issue pink slips on April 5, giving employees a necessary 45-days notice of termination. This is a legal formality, however; at-risk para-professionals will have until the end of June to come into compliance. 

Ann Graybeal of the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, which represents the district’s para-professionals, said she “absolutely” believes many employees will not be able to meet the deadline. 

“Of course we are very concerned about that because the federal and state mandates state that if you can’t comply that you’re subject to layoffs,” she said.  

The school district claims it has monitored the progress of employees, sent out myriad warning letters and scheduled paid classes in math and English writing and test-taking skills to help para-professionals meet the requirements. 

Those efforts, which are paid for by Title II federal funds, have fallen short, Graybeal said.  

The council tried to negotiate an additional evaluation-based option for coming into compliance that would keep in mind the special circumstances of veteran employees, but the district rejected that option, Graybeal said. 

A district administrator said the options are set by the No Child Left Behind legislation, and the district has no jurisdiction to grant such concessions. 

Hosanna Kitzenberger, a reading resources specialist for Malcom X and John Muir elementary schools, has worked in the Berkeley school district for 12 years. With just three to four years to go until retirement, she said she refuses to go back to school or take a test. She thinks the district should look at her annual evaluations—which are practically perfect, she said—if it wants to get a feel for her qualifications.  

“I’m not taking any test,” she said. “I know how good I am.” 

The Berkeley Board of Education will hear a presentation on the No Child Left Behind requirements at its regularly scheduled meeting tomorrow, 7:30 p.m., in the Council Chambers at 2314 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.