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More Pink Slips for District Classified Staff

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday May 21, 2009 - 09:53:00 AM
Ann Butts, an eight-year Berkeley Adult School employee, was one of 10 district classified employees to receive a pink slip in the latest round of layoffs.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Ann Butts, an eight-year Berkeley Adult School employee, was one of 10 district classified employees to receive a pink slip in the latest round of layoffs.

Berkeley Unified School District sent pink slips to 10 classified employees Thursday, May 14, informing clerks, custodians and bus drivers that they would be losing their jobs at the end of the school year.  

The Berkeley Board of Ed-ucation approved the layoffs at a public meeting the previous night, where more than a dozen members of the Berkeley Council of Classified Employ-ees (BCCE) showed up to protest.  

Berkeley Unified is required by law to send layoff notices 45 days before the employees’ last day of work in the district.  

The reductions were in addition to 62 layoff notices mailed out to classified staff last month in light of state education bud-get cuts.  

With the failure of the May 19 ballot measures, state educators warned districts to brace for more cuts. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May budget revision plans to close Califor-nia’s staggering $21.3 billion shortfall with massive cuts to public service, including education. 

His plan will take away $1.4 billion from schools this year and $3.3 million in 2009-10. 

This would be in addition to the more than $11 billion cut from the education budget in February.  

Some BCCE members said they were concerned that layoff notices were not being given out properly.  

BCCE President Paula Phillips told the Planet after the meeting that the district was not keeping the seniority of employees in mind while laying them off, which she said was a violation of the state education code.  

“The employee who was hired in 2006 got a layoff notice,” she said. “But there were three employees hired in 2009, and one of them didn’t get a layoff notice. A bunch of them were hired in 2008 and they didn’t get layoff notices either. They say it’s based on cuts to site funds, but it’s not.”  

District Superintendent Bill Huyett told the Planet that he was aware of the union’s concerns.  

“I know about them, but the district uses the layoff list according to law,” he said. “There are lots of different classifications, so you go further up the seniority list than you would according to the classifications. There is a difference of opinion between the district and the union.”  

Some classified staff from the Berkeley Adult School were present at Wednesday’s meeting. The Adult School is facing a million-dollar shortfall in the new school year, forcing the district to cut back on some of its services. At least 11 classified employees have had their work hours reduced and two have been laid off completely, Phillips said.  

Ann Butts will be laid off in June after eight years helping Berkeley Adult School students with retraining and job placement.  

“In 2009, my employment with the Berkeley Unified School District will end,” Butts told the board. “Although I have eight years of experience, my job no longer has any value to my district.... My problem is I am not being given any more choices. I think I deserve more respect. I think the Berkeley Adult School deserves more respect. It’s a great institution, and I wish it would get more support from the district and the community.”  

BCCE members make up 57 percent of the most recent layoffs, Phillips said, reminding the board that the district would be unable to function without the hard work and dedication of classified employees.  

“We want to be part of the planning process to help reduce the layoffs, and not a solution,” she said.”  

Huyett said the layoffs were a difficult decision for the administration and the board, and he hopes to rescind as many of the pink slips as possible.  

“I want to tell you from the bottom of my heart, I feel very badly about it,” he said. “These are difficult budget times. Classified staff does wonderful work and we need more, not less. But we are being pressured by low budgets not only in this district but all over California.”  

Huyett said that although the federal government had released some stimulus funds to the schools, he wasn’t sure the money would be enough to bring back laid-off workers.  

“We need to push the government to not make further cuts in education,” he said. ‘If [the governor] doesn’t make more cuts, we can rescind these layoffs.”  

Berkeley Unified is facing a $4.9 million budget shortfall in 2009-10.  

The district sent out 129 layoff notices to teachers in March, but was able to rescind most of them, bringing that number down to 25.