Berkeley teachers, community members hold walk-in to demand fair contracts

Nina Narahari/Staff

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On Friday, local teachers, classified workers and members of the community held a walk-in at Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, schools — most notably at Berkeley High School and Willard Middle School —  to demand a fair contract.

At Berkeley High School, more than 50 people gathered near the entrance to hold a rally before walking into the school. They demanded an increase in compensation for teachers and more case managers to support special education students.

The purpose of the walk-in was to “raise the alarm” for BUSD that teachers need a raise, especially given the high cost of living in Berkeley, according to Amanda Marini, a teacher at Berkeley High School for more than 16 years.

“There are so many hardworking teachers here who aren’t paid a wage that is livable in this area,” Marini said. “This is a very wealthy city and this is a well-funded school district, and they continually fail to put money into compensation for their staff.”

The supporters of the walk-in chanted: “16%, so we can pay our rent,” “We teach, we care, school board be fair,” “We don’t need to settle down, our district needs to settle up, and pay us what we’re worth” and “Caseloads in special ed, that’s why we are red for SPED.” They also held up posters that said: “#REDforSPED, 18 for 8, Caseload Caps,” ”More than praise, we need a raise,” ”Keep education in Berkeley” and “Fair Contract Now.”

Aryn Faur, a longtime English teacher at Berkeley High School, said the school year started off with multiple vacancies due to teachers leaving to work in other school districts because of salaries not remaining competitive.

The proposed two-year contract so far includes a 4% raise in 2019-20, a 5% raise for the 2020-21 school year and a parcel tax that would be a 7% raise, according to Matt Meyer, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. Negotiations for the contract are still ongoing.

“Being a district that values thoughtful activism and civic engagement, we support our teachers in their desire to communicate their position to the Berkeley community,” BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott said in an email.

According to Faur, proposed caseload caps for special education classrooms are designed to make a more “sustainable” workload for teachers. Faur also said the current workload for teachers prevents them from spending quality time with students, and a caseload of around 18 students for special education teachers is preferred.

“Really, this comes down to we want to serve our community and be here, and serve our students — but at the end of the day we need to be able to support ourselves so we can do our jobs,” Meyer said.

Contact Nina Narahari at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ninanarahari_dc.