Educators call for caseload caps at Berkeley school district meeting

Ben Klein/Staff

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Wednesday’s Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, board meeting was marked with continued controversy over educators’ pay and caseload caps.

The meeting began with a public comment section in which educators discussed objections to the working conditions within the school district. The objections followed a large rally of about 400 educators at the Sept. 18 school district meeting.

Among educators’ grievances were the high workloads placed on special educators. According to Amanda Cardno, a special education case manager at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, case managers currently have so many students that they are often instructed to request substitutes to help them complete their other job requirements.

“In order for us to do our jobs and to feel valued and respected, there must be caseload caps and assessment limits for special education case managers,” Cardno said. BUSD case managers are overworked and underpaid and asked to take on unsustainable caseloads. The result we say from last year is significant turnover and burnout, and we cannot afford to do this again this year.”

Labor disputes among East Bay educators are by no means new. In February, educators in the Oakland Unified School District went on strike for better working conditions, and Berkeley educators joined Oakland staff members in solidarity. BUSD teachers also called on the district for increased pay for educators at an April school district meeting.

Although caseload caps were a major concern at Wednesday’s meeting, payment was an underlying current. Christina Balch, an English and history teacher at Berkeley Independent Study, said she and her colleagues are often underpaid and that inaccuracies in her colleagues’ time sheets are common.

Balch and her colleagues brought a thick stack of files to the meeting, which she said were 18 years of time sheets for a single BIS teacher. Seventy percent of the time sheets, Balch said, had errors.

“My colleagues and I are not asking for special treatment. We are asking to be treated equitably,” Balch said as she began to tear up. “There shouldn’t be any second-tiered, fully credentialed teachers in Berkeley. We deserve to be paid on the salary schedule and have a path to tenure.”

The meeting was not entirely dedicated to these controversies, however. Much of the meeting’s discussion centered on the success of the Career Technical Education, or CTE, program. The project, which focuses on preparing students for college and careers — especially in STEM — secured ongoing funding in June 2018. The CTE helps run a carpentry shop and fabrication lab and has updated the school district’s biotech classroom, among other initiatives.

Despite the success of the CTE program, educators focused on pay and caseload caps at the meeting.

“Our ask is modest,” Matt Meyer, Berkeley Federation of Teachers president, said. “Provide our case managers with a contract that allows our case managers to do their jobs well and to want to stay in our district, so that some of our most vulnerable students can be served better.”

Ben Klein is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BenKlein_dc‏.