School District Plans Layoffs in Light of State Budget Cuts

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday February 27, 2009 - 04:34:00 PM

Statewide education cuts have forced the Berkeley Unified School District to consider eliminating at least 118 teaching positions in the 2009-2010 school year, district officials announced Wednesday. 

Administrators and educators in Berkeley acknowledge that although the district annually faces possible layoffs that it usually manages to avoid, this year the situation is more serious, given that the district is estimated to lose $8 million over the next two years, the majority of which would come from the district’s general fund. 

General fund dollars go toward paying teacher salaries, officials said. 

The district lost $2.5 million in the last fiscal year but was still able to rescind layoff notices to teachers at that time after the Legislature voted against scrapping Prop. 98, a voter-approved statute that establishes a minimum level of funding for California schools. 

However, the new budget approved by state lawmakers on Feb. 19 will subtract $8.4 billion from Prop. 98, resulting in teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and fewer programs in arts and music. 

“It’s a pretty serious threat,” said Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. “We are cutting more than twice as much this time." 

In a report to district Superintendent Bill Huyett and the school board, Lisa Udell, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources, said that budget cuts meant that the district would have to reduce its ability to “provide the same type of services at the same level, and in the same manner as provided in previous years.” 

Udell informed the board that the state education code permitted teacher layoffs, but that it was necessary to notify teachers by March 15 if their jobs were in jeopardy. 

“We recognize that it’s a very painful process and a time of uncertainty, but Berkeley is not unique,” she said, referring to school districts which already laid off teachers and even closed down entire schools. “We will be doing our best to limit the layoffs as we get close to March 4 but unfortunately we feel there will be some serious cuts this year.” 

The board is scheduled to vote on the list of possible reductions Wednesday. District administrators will finalize the list of layoffs after taking into account a teacher’s seniority, credentials and degrees, among other factors. 

Teachers receiving pink slips in March will also have a chance to appear before an administrative law judge to make their case. The final layoff notices are scheduled to go out in mid-May. 

The district is considering reducing positions that include management in administrative areas, vice principals, counselors and coaches across all the elementary, middle and high schools. 

Udell said that jobs like foreign language and early childhood special education teachers would not be eliminated because those positions are harder to fill. 

“Clearly the cuts are large,” said Huyett. “There are more than 100 positions here. We will look to see if we can preserve the positions but we don’t want to give false hopes at this juncture.” 

Huyett said there might be hope in the form of education funds promised through the federal stimulus bill, but that the school district still did not have any definite numbers. 

“The worse part is, that’s not all the cuts,” he said, adding that categorical funds which provide money for arts programs and libraries will be slashed by 20 percent and adult education will face at least a $1 million cut. 

“We are living in a state that is not valuing public education and not using progressive taxation,” said Campbell. “We are probably down to 50th in the nation in per pupil spending. I am ashamed of the failure of the state to prioritize education.”