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District Sends Layoff Notices to Berkeley Teachers

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 11, 2009 - 07:08:00 PM

The Berkeley Unified School District sent out at least 130 potential layoff notices to teachers and counselors Tuesday, district officials said. 

According to Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan, the number includes 124 teachers and six counselors. 

The Berkeley Board of Education, at its Mar. 4 meeting, voted unanimously to eliminate numerous teaching jobs. 

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

The preliminary layoff notices were hand-delivered to the principals of every school in the district, who discussed the news with the teachers, Coplan said. 

Teachers on leave will be notified by registered mail by Friday. 

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

District staff worked over the weekend to look at years of service and teaching credentials of teachers to determine who will not be returning next year. 

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 this week—almost twice as many as last year—because of the budget cuts, prompting the CFT to launch an ad campaign protesting the layoffs. 

The union has tagged Mar. 13 “Pink Friday” and has plans to hold mass rallies and protests around the state, purchasing radio ads and billboards to get its point across to the public. 

Campbell asked the community to join the Berkeley teachers’ union to protest the layoffs in front of the district administrative building at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way on Friday. 

Superintendent Huyett has warned that unlike last year—when the district was facing a similar layoff threat but rescinded it at the last minute—the prospect of some teachers losing their jobs this time is a real possibility. 

In an e-mail sent out to the community on Mar. 10, Huyett announced that Berkeley Unified will have to cut $3 million from its general fund in the current school year and $4.9 million in 2009-10, which will result in significant staff reductions. 

In addition, many categorical funds—which provide money to arts programs and libraries among others—will be slashed by 15 percent this year and an additional 4.3 percent in 2009-10. 

“Both the general fund reduction and the categorical cuts will hurt our school in significant ways,” Huyett said in his email. 

The district has been able to make $3 million in one-time cuts in 2008-09 without immediately reducing pre-K through grade 12 programs by curbing expenses, and instituting a hiring freeze. 

Although district officials have recommended against increasing class size, Huyett said that enough layoff notices were sent out to give the school board the flexibility to raise the number of students in every classroom if necessary. 

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 to send 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. 

“As schools decide their budgets, especially regarding teachers on special assignments, and the district office does the same, and as the school board makes decisions on class size and budget reductions, many teacher layoff notices will be rescinded,” Huyett said. “District staff will work hard to make sure teachers are removed from the layoff list as quick as possible.” 

He added that he had instructed his staff to make a preliminary list of budget reductions, which would be reviewed by the Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee—composed of district employees, union members and community members—and forwarded to the School Board in May. 

The district plans to give its classified employees layoff notices in April.