Community members rally at Berkeley school district board meeting amid educator contract negotiations

Thao Nguyen/File

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On Wednesday, more than 100 Berkeley educators and community members attended the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, board meeting as a campaign action item amid ongoing negotiations for educator contracts.

Before the start of open session at 7:30 p.m., supporters gathered outside of the BUSD chambers in front of a “Fair Contract Now” mural painted by members of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, or BFT. People chanted and played music, with a few cars driving by honking in support.

“We’ve really been at every board meeting this year, but this is our second big mobilization this year and our members just keep coming out,” said Matt Meyer, president of the BFT. “They want to make sure that the board understands that we’re serious about our demands.”

The BUSD has been engaged in contract negotiations with the BFT since 2018. The BFT has called for higher educator compensation, fully funding special education through caseload caps and limits on assessments.

The BUSD board meeting was slightly delayed as members of the campaign filled the chambers to chant and hold signs reading “Fair contract now!”

The public comment section started with speakers expressing concern regarding Oxford Elementary School, which was built near the Hayward Fault and has a high risk of landslides.

BUSD superintendent Brent Stephens later mentioned the possibility of relocating Oxford Elementary to West Campus by the 2020-21 school year, but ultimately said a conclusion will be reached on what to do in the future.

Soon after, the Berkeley educators and community members spoke about contract negotiations. The BFT announced it had a petition signed by over 1,000 teachers and community members.

“For many months you’ve been hearing heart-rending stories from our members … you’ve heard the necessity of second jobs … commutes … We also know that we can’t afford to wait … teachers are leaving now,” said Cynthia Allman, a teacher at Malcolm X Elementary School. “With a fair contract now, you can keep talented teachers in Berkeley.”

Other speakers brought up similar concerns regarding the increased number of vacancies in Berkeley High School, the high turnover rate, the inability to keep up with the high cost of living in Berkeley, increasing workloads for special education teachers and the decreasing quality of education and stability.

After public comment, the board discussed the rest of the agenda, which included Stephens addressing “United Against Hate Week” and the 2020 Vision community partnership.

The negotiations for the contract of Berkeley educators will tentatively reach its end Oct. 28.

“We’re optimistic that by next week, we may have a final tentative agreement with the union,” Stephens said. “The district recognizes that teachers provide an invaluable service to the Berkeley community and we recognize the value of a fair contract, both in recruiting new teachers into the district and retaining our teachers.”

Contact Thao Nguyen and Nina Narahari at [email protected].