Berkeley Teachers Protest Lack of Contract

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday February 11, 2009 - 07:09:00 PM

Berkeley public school teachers took to the streets after class Tuesday to protest what they said was the 194th day that their union, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, has been without a contract with the Berkeley Unified School District. 

They also spoke out against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed education budget cuts, which could take $9 million away from Berkeley Unified over the next two years and lead to teacher layoffs. 

Calls to district officials for comment were not returned immediately.  

Clusters of teachers distributed flyers at Berkeley Bowl, the two Andronico’s locations on Shattuck Avenue and Telegraph Avenue and Monterey Market among other places to draw attention to their situation. 

They urged community members to lobby district superintendent Bill Huyett and the Berkeley Board of Education to arrive at a resolution over the contract. 

At Berkeley Bowl, a group of 15 teachers from Longfellow Middle School and LeConte Elementary School urged Berkeley residents to put up signs on their windows saying that they supported a prompt contract renewal. 

Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, said that the current economic crisis made it crucial to recruit and retain good teachers. 

The union sent out a statement Tuesday saying that the governor’s budget would slash funds for public education, making negotiations even more difficult than before. 

The statement said that the Berkeley Federation of Teachers believed that the district and the union would be able to negotiate a good contract and preserve necessary state programs if the governor and the legislature agreed to restore California's top income tax brackets and close corporate tax loopholes.  

Awilda Logan and Maria Carriedo, who teach a dual immersion program at LeConte just down the street from where they were rallying at Berkeley Bowl, said a contract was important to protect the current class size in the district. 

“Right now we have 20 students in each class for K-3 and we want to make sure it is protected,” said Logan.  

Union vice president Cynthia Allman said the union also wanted a three-year fair-share formula that showed a commitment to teachers when funding was restored to the schools. 

“We know that we will share the pain of tough times,” she said. “Pink slips, larger class sizes and decreased take-home pay are virtually inevitable for next year. But we are optimistic that the economy will recover and our state and federal government will provide education with the funds it needs to work. We fully understand that the district doesn’t have the revenue right now, but we want them to provide us with increased salary when there is increased revenue.” 

Allman said that it was likely that the proposed cuts would lay off at least100 teachers. 

“Many of them will be invited back but it’s just terribly demoralizing to be laid off,” she said. “It distracts us from our teaching.”