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School District Sends Out 55 Layoff Notices

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday March 18, 2008

Fifty-five teachers and counselors in the Berkeley Unified School District received pink slips over the weekend notifying them of anticipated layoffs in face of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to slash state education funds by $4.6 billion. 

Dozens of parents and teachers turned up to protest the cuts in front of the district headquarters at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way Friday. They formed a human billboard spelling out “No Cuts. Raise State Revenue.” 

Berkeley Unified—which stands to lose up to $5 million if legislators approve the proposed cuts in Sacramento—could save between $3.7 and $4.5 million from the layoffs. 

“It’s very demoralizing for the teachers,” said Berkeley Federation of Teachers President Cathy Campbell. “You feel unwanted. Teachers face challenges in the classroom every day and on top of that they have to think about losing their job. The district can’t look at just teachers and counselors to solve the budget crisis. It’s just not fair ... It’s a direct hit to students. They need to look at the whole budget and cut fairly.” 

Campbell plans to organize another rally this Friday and a bigger one on April 9. 

Board president John Selawsky said that the potential layoff notices—which were issued by March 15 in keeping with state law—should not be confused with the final list of employees who will be laid off. He said that list would be mailed out in late May. 

“Increase revenues,” Selawsky said, as he joined the rally. “It all starts in Sacramento.” 

A budget advisory committee comprised of district staff and community members will work with District Superintendent Bill Huyett to recommend cuts to the Berkeley Board of Education. 

“We have worked very hard to keep cuts away from the classroom,” he said. “However, many of the reductions will be from counseling support.” 

Huyett, who has already made several trips to Sacramento to talk about the proposed cuts, said that several legislators were in support of saving Prop. 98, which the governor has proposed to cut. 

Beth Trevor, a third-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, received a layoff notice Thursday. 

“It’s horrible .... Makes me very, very sad,” said Trevor, who was with her son, a kindergartner at her school. “Two other teachers at my school also got layoff notices. If nothing changes, if the district continues with the budget cuts, then I will get my final notice in May.” 

Malcom X Elementary School parents Leigh Raiford and Michael Cohen told the Planet that both their children’s teachers had received pink slips. 

“We are both university professors, middle-class parents who moved to Berkeley to put our kids in public schools,” Raiford said. “Teachers are doing such a wonderful job, but these cuts are going to gut the system. The governor is taking money out of the public schools and using it to build prisons. This is not the society we want to raise our children in.” 

Education Weekly recently gave California a D+ for public education spending. 

“We have been looting education for a long time now in this state and in this country,” said president of the classified employees’ union Tim Donnelly. “So those law makers who say they are pro education have to put their money where their mouth is.” 

Donnelly said that classified employees will receive layoff notices in late April. 

“I am sure it’s going to be bad,” he said. “We are all very anxious. Instructional assistants and clerical staff are already cut to the bottom.” 

The district will cut positions in order of seniority for employees, which means young and recently trained teachers will be the worst hit. 

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 certain advanced degrees.  

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. 

The Oakland Unified School District plans to freeze hiring and dip into its reserve fund in order to prevent teacher layoffs. 

A group of teachers and parents from Berkeley High’s Independent Study program requested at the last school board meeting that the board reconsider laying off Independent Study coordinator Evelyn Bradley. 

“If we lose her, we would have lost three administrators in less than two years, which would not be good for the program or the students,” said Kate Karpilow, whose daughter attends Independent Study. 

“All kinds of students—teen moms, gays, lesbians, talented dancers and musicians, students who need sanctuary from violence at Berkeley High—depend on independent study,” said Christina Balch, who teaches in the program. “I urge you to reconsider cutting the coordinator’s position ... when we have six coordinators in nine years it’s a waste of time.” 

Parents also asked the school board to pay more attention to the program itself. 

“I don’t get why it is not seen as a jewel in the crown,” said Karpilow.  

“For some reason it’s seen as a secondary status program ... It’s not honored. I am baffled by this. Just as the small schools at Berkeley High School offer a menu of options for students and families, the option offered by Independent Study is critical to graduating students and offering them a solid education.”