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BUSD Lays Off 57 Educational Aides

By Suzanne La Barre
Friday April 07, 2006

After almost 20 years in education, Hosanna Kitzenberger leaves her job as a reading resource specialist—a position she says has brought her great joy—with a tinge of bitterness. 

Kitzenberger is one of 57 Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) employees who do not meet the higher education standards required of para-professionals by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), and are on track to lose their jobs, following a unanimous vote by the Berkeley Board of Education Wednesday. 

“I’m overly qualified for this job,” said Kitzenberger, who offers reading and math support to slow learners and at Malcolm X and John Muir elementary schools. “I’ve just begun to see that you do a great job and at the end of the year, you get a layoff notice.” 

As a result of No Child Left Behind, a federal education initiative signed into law by President Bush in 2002, instructional assistants, technicians, specialists and interpreters for the deaf at Title I-funded school districts must earn an associate’s degree, a higher education equivalent, or pass a test displaying advanced competence in reading, writing and math. 

Layoffs affect those hired before 2002, when higher education was not a requirement of the job.  

Paraprofessionals who do not come into compliance by June 30 will find themselves out of work. Those who do not meet the deadline may work as day-to-day substitutes if they so choose, said Superintendent Michele Lawrence. 

Between March 1 and April 5, almost 20 employees passed the test, provided documentation demonstrating compliance or announced retirement. 

According to Ann Graybeal, president of the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, which represents the district’s 376 teacher’s aides, library aides, secretaries, accountants and after-school program coordinators, many employees don’t have time to go back to school or to attend district-subsidized tutoring sessions aimed at passing the test. 

Others, like Kitzenberger, who was scheduled to retire in a couple years, oppose the mandate on principle.  

“I’m not taking any test,” she told the Daily Planet in March. “I know how good I am.” 

Board of Education directors insist their hands are tied.  

“It’s reprehensible that we have to do this, but we have to uphold the law,” said Vice President Joaquin Rivera. 

The council maintains that the district could have explored other options to enforce the NCLB requirement, such as evaluating on-the-job skills, but chose not to. 

The district rejected an evaluation-based alternative citing legal roadblocks. 

Graybeal voiced her frustration with the arrangement. 

“I’m embarrassed for the board. Employees deserve better,” she said, telling the Daily Planet that if paraprofessionals must meet additional requirements per No Child Left Behind, the district should consider increasing their compensation. 


Pink slips and promotions 

At Wednesday’s school board meeting, directors also issued additional pink slips for classified employees and instituted two high-paying managerial positions. 

Director of Certified Employees Patricia Calvert takes leave of the district June 30, and will be replaced with an assistant superintendent slated to earn $134,931. 

Director of Educational Services Neil Smith will get promoted to assistant superintendent of curriculum and instructional services, and his old position will be eliminated. He will also earn $134,931. 

Together, the new titles cost the district an extra $30,847, but shifting resources will prevent encroachment on the general fund, Lawrence said. 

Directors voted unanimously in favor of the new positions. They also agreed unanimously to eradicate or cut the hours of more than a dozen classified employees, including bilingual assistants, arts specialists and a health coordinator. The decision was unrelated to the No Child Left Behind policy discussed earlier. 

Rather, the cuts come about because the district does not know whether classified staff will receive financial support until the state, the primary source of funding for California schools, finalizes its budget this summer. Some positions may eventually be spared, but by law, if layoffs are to occur, employees must receive 45-days notice. 

Given the unpredictable nature of K-12 revenue in California, the issuance of pink slips is something of an annual ritual, Graybeal said, but this year’s coupling with raises for administration is particularly disturbing for the council.  

She said, “If management is receiving increases at the same time classified staff is being laid off, that’s obviously a great blow to morale.”