Berkeley Unified to Eliminate More than 100 Teaching Positions

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday March 05, 2009 - 07:41:00 PM

The Berkeley Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday night to eliminate numerous teaching jobs. 

Superintendent Bill Huyett said the depth of the cuts may amount to 118 full-time teacher positions. 

The job cuts are a result of the state budget crisis that has left the district at least $8 million short, prompting district officials to send out tentative layoff notices to teachers by March 13, as required under state law. 

Lisa Udell, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources, told the school board that the list of teachers who would receive pink slips next week would be finalized by Tuesday. 

“These are the positions, not people,” she said, referring to the services that might be eliminated as outlined in the board packet. “People will be notified according to the seniority list.” 

Udell’s staff will be working over the weekend to determine years of service and teaching credentials of teachers to determine who will not be returning next year. 

The district will mail preliminary layoff notices by Wednesday and will mail final notices by mid-May after releasing its 2009-10 budget. 

Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, said that newer teachers, who have been with the district for less than two years, were the most vulnerable since they had the least seniority. 

Positions recommended for reduction include vice principal positions at a middle school, Berkeley High School and the Berkeley Adult School, counselors and teachers on special assignment. Music, math, biology, chemistry, physics and English teaching positions will also be affected. 

The California Federation of Teachers estimates that nearly 18,000 teachers statewide will get pink slips next week—almost twice as many as last year—because of the budget cuts, prompting the union to launch an ad campaign protesting the layoffs. 

It has tagged March 13 “Pink Friday,” and has plans to hold mass rallies and protests around the state, purchasing radio ads and billboards to get their point across to the public. 

Campbell asked the community to join the Berkeley teacher’s union at a March 13 rally protesting the layoffs in front of the district administrative building at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

Superintendent Huyett has warned that unlike last year—when the district was facing a similar layoff threat but rescinded it at the last minute—the prospect of some teachers losing their jobs this time is a real possibility. 

Other school districts across the East Bay and California are facing a similar crunch, with the West Contra Costa school district planning to send out more than 200 pink slips and Mt. Diablo preparing out about 100. 

Some Berkeley school board members urged the public to keep in mind that the pink slips that would go out next week were “only potential layoff notices” which could change once the district adopted its budget. 

“It’s kind of a strange thing to give people a notification that they could be laid off,” said board vice president Karen Hemphill. “But until we have a budget, we have to do that.”