Berkeley High School teachers stage unofficial strike

Chen Gong/File

Related Posts

Multiple Berkeley High School, or BHS, teachers stayed home Monday in an unofficial strike to protest inadequate teacher compensation

26 teachers were absent Monday, according to Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, spokesperson Trish McDermott, with some of these absent teachers participating in the strike.

The number of teachers absent from BHS on the day of the strike was only slightly larger than the daily absences BHS experiences, according to McDermott. The strike’s absences, however, were called in later which meant there was less time to find substitutes. Administrators taught some classes to make up for the absences.

According to Estella Hemp, BUSD student director, she and other students were not aware of the strike. Mimi Pulich, president of the BHS Parent Teacher Association also had not heard about the strike and did not wish to comment further.

The strike was unaffiliated with Berkeley Federation of Teachers, or BFT, according to BFT President Matt Meyer. BFT is currently in the process of negotiating a new contract for BUSD teachers, but the district has not yet agreed to the level of raises demanded by the teachers’ union.

BUSD teachers have been fighting for an increase in their pay, among other things, over the past few months. In September, teachers organized a rally at a school district board meeting to advocate for fair contracts. On Oct. 18, Berkeley teachers and community members held walk-ins at some BUSD schools, similarly demanding pay raises to compensate for the high cost of living in Berkeley.

Dan Plonsey, a BHS math teacher who participated in Monday’s strike, said many teachers are “really unhappy with (their) compensation and are looking for a major increase.” As a “veteran” teacher, Plonsey said he has seen teacher compensation fall behind costs of living in Berkeley by 15%.

Facing this “dire situation,” Plonsey said he did not want to “just sit there and feel exploited and do nothing.” He added that by taking the risk in participating in the strike, he hopes that his students feel encouraged and empowered in the world.

“I think it’s beautiful that teachers and other faculty stand up for what they deserve,” Hemp said in an email.

The difficulty with raising teacher pay lies in insufficient state funding, according to McDermott.

“We’re required to find a careful balance between many important priorities, including raises for all our employees,” McDermott said in an email. “Because this funding shortfall has no foreseeable end, our bargaining requires care and good judgment.”

In contract negotiations, the district has proposed a potential parcel tax in 2020-21, which could add to current revenue for schools and teachers. Teachers would receive a raise of up to 7% if the tax measure passed. This would add to a raise of 2.25% this school year. Combined with the 9.25% raise, however, it would “at best, just barely cover the cost of living increases,” according to Plonsey, which is increasing by 3-4% per year. BFT countered BUSD’s offer with a request of raises totaling 16% over three years.

Plonsey expressed concerns that the proposed parcel tax to help teachers is “uncertain.” 

Plonsey added that some teachers prefer a statewide approach to solving teacher pay issues.

“We understand the frustration teachers feel about the current district proposal,” Meyer said in an email. “Right now we are still negotiating and we made it clear to the District that we expect a serious offer around compensation.”

Contact Alexandra Feldman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_p_feldman.