Unions Oppose Charter School Petitions, Favor Alternative Education Plan

By Raymond Barglow, Special to the Planet
Thursday January 21, 2010 - 09:17:00 AM

At the Jan. 13 Berkeley School Board meeting, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT) joined the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees (BCCE) in opposing applications for two new independent charter schools in Berkeley, one a middle school and the other a high school. Both unions favor the development of a new educational program that is not independent of the school district. 

The school board is currently reviewing the applications for these two charter schools to see whether they meet state requirements. 

Representing the BCCE, Paula Phillips spoke of the charter petitioners’ “unrealistic financial plan,” which “proposes to pay wages that barely exceed federal poverty limits and are far below the standards established for our community.” She added that the plan “has grossly under-budgeted for retirement, health, and mandatory benefits.” 

Speaking for the teachers’ union, Cathy Campbell said, “The community members who have submitted charter petitions are inspired and guided by a serious commitment to and passion for students and families, equity and innovation,” but asked the board to reject the petitions and to support instead a new option for students that would be sponsored by the school district itself. 

“This new secondary option,” said Campbell, “should be a district-sponsored program. In our view, as teachers in this district, it is our responsibility as a unified school district to serve all of the students of Berkeley, and to innovate as needed to make that happen.” 

According to Campbell, “A new high school program, tailored to the needs of students and families currently being underserved by our district, is needed. A smaller program would offer a kind of personalization not currently available at the 3,200-student high school, even within the small schools.” 

Innovation and enrichment of secondary school education was the subject of workshops sponsored this past summer by the school board, and Campbell said that a new educational option based on these workshops should be offered to students, beginning in the fall of 2011. “Our community is correct that there is a serious unmet need for secondary families and students,” said Campbell, “and BFT believes that working together we can address this challenge.” 

Campbell also urged support of the existing alternative high school in Berkeley, Berkeley Technology Academy, which mainly serves African-American and Latino students.