Berkeley Schools Plan to Hand Out Layoff Notices

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday March 07, 2008

The Berkeley Unified School district will be sending out possible layoff notices to its certified staff by March 15 in the face of the proposed $4.6 billion state education budget cut crisis, district officials confirmed Monday. 

At a special meeting Monday, the Berkeley Board of Education discussed the criteria for determining order of seniority for employees with the same first date of paid probationary service. It will determine whether to approve it Wednesday. 

“The notices that will be sent out by mid-March is not the final list,” said school board President John Selawsky. “We notify more people than who are going to be laid off.” 

Final layoff notices are expected to be sent out around the first week of May. 

“The district is confronted with budgetary problems that reduce its ability to provide the same type of services at the same level and in the same manner as provided in previous years,” Lisa Udell, assistant superintendent, human resources, said in a report to the board. “The board has the authority to determine the order of seniority.” 

The state Education Code mandates that the district retain certain positions, including those with credentials pertaining to Bilingual Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development, Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English and the number of advanced degrees held. 

Special education and single subject credentialed teachers—including those teaching math and science—will be retained in the 2008-2009 school year regardless of their seniority, Selawsky said. 

“It’s very difficult to fill some of these positions ... Subjects such as math and science are unique,” he said. “Teachers with multiple subject credentials who have taught for only two to three years are probably going to be noticed.” 

The board will vote Wednesday to approve a resolution to reduce particular kinds of services and to initiate the layoff process for affected certified employees. 

According to the resolution, the “district will no longer employ all current temporary and substitute employees after June 30, 2008.” 


Berkeley Unified Protests In Sacramento  

At a meeting with the California School Board Association (CSBA) in Sacramento last week, district superintendent Bill Huyett said that he wanted to minimize lay-offs as much as possible. 

A group of 20 district officials, principals, parents and a Berkeley High School student protested the governors proposed budget cuts at meetings with state officials and Assemblymember Loni Hancock during their trip to the state capital. 

Berkeley Unified—which has 9,000 students—could lose $5 million from the cuts. 

“We want to be effective and ask the legislature to save Prop. 98,” Huyett told Hancock.  

Prop 98 is a voter-approved statute that establishes a minimum level of funding for California schools—which the governor proposes to suspend.  

“The legislature has to look at all of our options, including new revenues or taxes that will substantially address state priorities,” Hancock, one of the five assembly members to vote against the proposed cuts, said. “Something has to give if we want to avoid Draconian cuts to our schools and social services.” 

Rick Pratt, CSBA’s assistant executive director, described the cuts as “the worst crisis to have hit public education in years.” 

County superintendent Sheila Jordan told Pratt that 15 of the 18 school districts in Alameda County faced negative certification if the cuts were approved. 

“Right now we have only one negative certification,” she said. 

Pratt said that the alternative proposal by the governor’s legislative analyst to his proposed across the board 10 percent cut would still lead to cuts and suspension of Prop 98. 

“However it might help to change the nature of conversation across the street,” he said. “But CSBA thinks that revenue increases is part of the solution. Right now the districts need to identify what kind of cuts would be the least harmful. The reality is no cuts are acceptable to us.” 

“Fight, fight, fight and contact your legislator,” said Karen Stapf-Walters, assistant executive director for the Association of California School Administrators. “We are under assault. We are always fighting for survival but this time the number is really big.” 

She added that writing letters to the local media and encouraging school districts to adopt resolutions to protest the cuts was a good way to send a message to the legislators. 

“Loni Hancock and Don Perata are both being timed out,” she said. “We don’t have any friends in the legislature. They will stab us in the back in a heartbeat ... When push comes to shove and they have to cut, they will cut in the dead of the night.” 

Mark Van Krieken, president of the Berkeley High Parent Teacher Student Council, pointed out that Education Week recently gave California a D+ for public school funding efforts. 

According to county officials, the state—which currently spends $2,000 less per student than the national average and ranks 46th nationally in school funding—ranks behind less prosperous states such as Louisiana and Mississippi.