Berkeley school district teachers call for increased pay

Kaho Otake /Staff

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District finances and programs such as the Green Dot and the African-American Success Project were discussed at Wednesday’s Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, board meeting, where a crowd of district teachers spoke during public comment, including several who called for payment increases.

BUSD teachers from several Berkeley schools, including Jefferson Elementary School, Berkeley High School and Emerson Elementary School, shared stories of financial struggles surrounding the cost of living.

“As a young person who does not own property and as the financial head of my household, rent and health insurance is where the vast majority of my income goes every month,” said ethnic studies and social living teacher at Berkeley High School Alex Day, who said he has had to take on a second job.

BUSD teachers’ calls for increased wages come shortly after a teachers strike in Oakland surrounding similar issues, which won Oakland Unified School District teachers an 11 percent raise over the next four years. During the strike, Berkeley teachers picketed with their Oakland counterparts and staged walk-in demonstrations in support.

Several teachers explicitly called for increased wages. Taylor Totten, a teacher at Emerson Elementary School, said she worries about the future of both the school and the district.

“This inadequate budget and … the cost of living here is not the fault of this board,” Totten said. “I know it won’t be fixed overnight, but I beg you to consider what power you do have to shape Berkeley schools’ future and what you can do before it’s too late.”

Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, invited her BUSD colleagues to attend a demonstration called by several California union and educator groups in Sacramento on May 22 to voice dissatisfaction with the financial conditions that California educators and students face.

Campbell also referenced the California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act, a property tax slated for the 2020 ballot that would dedicate $11 billion toward “schools, community colleges and other vital community services,” according to the act’s website. While Campbell voiced her optimism about the act, she also said immediate legislative action is needed.

“Our legislature and our governor … need to stand up now, and they need to act now,” Campbell said.

Board members also voiced support for BUSD teachers throughout the meeting, and board Director Julie Sinai said she plans to attend the Sacramento event in support.

BUSD board Vice President Beatriz Leyva-Cutler suggested that Berkeley teachers’ concerns be brought to landlords and realtors in Berkeley.

“I’m … always moved at … the stories of our teachers, both our tenured (and) our new teachers who are still struggling for housing,” Leyva-Cutler said. “These are compelling stories that our realtors and landlords need to hear. … They need to hear this story too.”

BUSD Associate Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi presented a draft of the Local Control and Accountability Plan surrounding supplemental funding, which outlines funds directed toward students who qualify for reduced-priced meals, foster youth and English learners. The draft of the plan included a one-time fund allocation of $20,000 for the Green Dot program — an anti-harassment bystander training program for Berkeley High School students — and $80,000 for the African-American Success Project.

Contact Ben Klein at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BenKlein_dc‏.