Berkeley Unified School District, teachers’ union reach tentative contract agreement

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Berkeley Unified School District and the local teachers’ union came to a tentative agreement Thursday on contract negotiations that will increase teacher salaries, stipends and benefits, as well as award teachers a one-time bonus.

The agreement, which pertains to the next two academic years, also expands qualifying conditions for bereavement leave and outlines the allocation of state funding to Berkeley’s adult education programs. The agreement comes in the wake of an announcement that the state will increase funding to the district this year.

“We think it respects the dignity and professionalism of educators in Berkeley,” said John Becker, vice president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, about the agreement’s benefits to teachers.

Becker and Judy Appel, president of the Berkeley school board, stated that the agreement will benefit teachers, the district and students.

Becker said higher compensation will allow the members of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers — which, according to the union’s website, is composed of “800 teachers, counselors, substitutes, school psychologists, adaptive PE teachers, librarians, and speech pathologists serving Berkeley public schools” — to afford the high cost of living in the Bay Area.

Appel said it is fair to pay teachers more in the upcoming school years because they will be implementing the new Common Core standards, which will require “a lot of group work and critical thinking and differentiation for individual students.”

Appel also said that teachers are the district’s biggest asset and that higher salaries allow the district to employ talented teachers. The district is trying to hire and retain more underrepresented-minority teachers, and higher salaries and positive work environments will make this possible, according to Appel.

Appel said the district is able to pay its teachers higher salaries because the state announced that it will reimburse the district for funds it has owed them for several years.

“We are continuing to push the principle that when there’s new money coming into the district, the first thing this money needs to go to is investing in employees,” Becker said.

The agreement also expanded the family members who qualify for bereavement leave: District employees will be able to take leave after deaths of family members including stepchildren and foster children. To Becker, the agreement “reflects the nuance of family structure in California these days.”

The agreement is pending approval from the general membership of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers and from the Berkeley school board. Becker said union members’ voting is underway and will conclude June 12. The school board will decide whether to approve the agreement at its June 22 meeting, according to Appel.

Contact Sally Littlefield at [email protected].