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School Board to Consider Layoffs

By Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday April 04, 2006

The hours of several instructional aides in the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) may get slashed, whereas the Berkeley Board of Education considers pay increases for district administration.  

More than a dozen classified employees, including math, reading and arts instructional specialists, could lose their jobs or find their hours significantly reduced because funds earmarked for those positions may not materialize until after the state finalizes its budget—if at all. 

Meanwhile the board will weigh in on a proposal to promote the director of educational services to assistant superintendent and to add an additional assistant superintendent to payroll, positions paid for through the district’s general fund, and therefore unrelated to looming layoffs of classified employees, said Superintendent Michele Lawrence. 

The board will vote to issue pink slips at Wednesday’s meeting. 

The vote would not instantly eliminate jobs, however. The district may find other sources of funding to maintain employees, but by law, if layoffs are to occur by the end of the school year, notices must go out 45 days in advance, meaning now. 

“We regret the hardship this notification process places on employees and the uncertainty of their future employment status,” Lawrence said in correspondence to the board. “Nevertheless, the district must guard against encroachments into the general fund due to the loss of categorical dollars.” 

She guesses that “some but not most” of the jobs will be cut. 

“It’s hard to predict which ones will be funded and which ones won’t,” she said. 

Funding for district administrators appears more stable. 

Under a proposal slated for consideration at tomorrow’s board meeting, current Director of Educational Services Neil Smith would earn a $14,249 salary hike, from $120,682 to $134,931 a year.  

District spokesperson Mark Coplan said Smith is already performing the tasks of an assistant superintendent. 

“He’s basically been doing the job without the title,” Coplan said.  

In his existing position, Smith is charged with the oversight of instructional support to schools, including staff development, student achievement and curriculum standards. He also supervises colleagues at the same level, a capacity Lawrence calls “awkward.”  

“He needs to have formal higher authority within the organization warranting the proposed position,” she said.  

As assistant superintendent, he would be expected to work 227 days a year, 10 days more than an existing requirement and attend Board of Education meetings. 

The second assistant superintendent would also work 227 days a year, earn $134,931 attend board meetings and would replace the director of certified employees, Patricia Calvert. Calvert receives $118,333 a year and will vacate the job June 30.  

A designated assistant superintendent for certified employees is necessary to offset an increased workload due to a larger work force, five unions and credentialing complexities associated with the No Child Left Behind Act, Lawrence said. 

The district offered a similar high-level position prior to 2002 when fiscal hardships stripped administration to the bare bones. 

Hiring two assistant superintendents will not encroach on the General Fund, because other central office retirements and resignations have freed up resources, Lawrence said. 

The positions will also take some pressure off Lawrence and deputy superintendent Eric Smith who bear the brunt of the district’s CEO responsibilities, said Coplan. 

BUSD’s maintenance department is also slated for a shakeup. Director of Maintenance Rhonda Bacot left the district in February to take a position at another school district. Rather than find a replacement, department oversight will fall to Facilities Director Lew Jones. Jones, who will not receive a raise, will secure the support of managers, one each for maintenance, transportation and custodial operations.  

The reorganization is expected to dig into the general fund by $65,000, but because of ongoing cost saving and budgetary adjustments, the district expects a net zero fiscal impact. 

The Berkeley Board of Education meets Wednesday at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 644-6206.