Teachers in the Berkeley Unified School District will get a one-time bonus this year — a small respite after years of stagnant paychecks.
The district’s school board unanimously voted at its Aug. 22 meeting to give teachers the 1 percent salary bonus, which will be given to teachers with their October paychecks.
Though the current bonus is for teachers only, other school staff members are expected to receive similar bonuses after union negotiations, said Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.
Campbell estimates the cost of these bonuses, when including staff as well as all teachers, will be around $600,000 for the district.
“(The bonus) is not really much, but it’s really a recognition that we have staff that have kind of been soldiers — soldiering on and doing excellent jobs,” said school board Director Karen Hemphill. “Our district has never been in better shape, in terms of the strengths of our schools.”
Hemphill said the bonuses are possible due to “carry-over” funds left from previous years, which were allocated to make up for state budget cuts that ended up not being as severe as anticipated.
When the expected budget cuts did not all come to fruition, the district was left with money that was no longer allocated to specific parts of the district budgets — which ended up being as much as $5 million to $7 million, she said.
Parcel taxes — which contribute to about 25 percent of the general operating budget for the district — are part of the reason the district is currently in “good fiscal shape,” Hemphill said.
Though this bonus will give teachers a little extra, teachers’ take-home pay has effectively dropped due to a combination of increased health care premium costs and a lack of cost-of-living raises, Hemphill said.
Berkeley teachers have not received a cost-of-living increase since the 2008-09 school year, Campbell said.
“(The bonus) is too small to be significant,” said Masha Albrecht, a math teacher at Berkeley High School, in an email. “It will not cover one month’s worth of what I pay out of pocket for my health insurance. When I started teaching, teachers paid nothing for health insurance.”
Still, other teachers, such as Berkeley High School English teacher John Becker, felt the bonuses were welcoming rewards for the hardworking district teachers.
“It feels great,” Becker said in an email. “To receive a bonus at a time when districts up and down the state are cutting, and furloughing teachers feels quite privileged.”
Every little bit helps, since teachers are not in it for the money, he said.
“The gesture is also important,” Becker said. “Our district could have followed the examples of San Francisco or Chicago, but instead they’re demonstrating their appreciation for teachers and staff.”
Jaehak Yu is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected].
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