‘Our teachers feel heard’: Contract ratified between Berkeley school district, teachers union

Ben Klein/Staff

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The Berkeley Unified School District board unanimously voted to approve two new tax measures to be added to the 2020 ballot and ratified the previously tentative contract agreement with the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, or BFT, at the board’s regular meeting Wednesday.

The meeting opened with a “snapshot of our schools” presentation from Willard Middle School staff and students, who discussed the student body’s rising standardized test scores over the past five years. During the presentation, students spoke about the assistance they received in the school’s math support program — a smaller class in which teachers can help struggling students with math concepts.

BUSD also approved a new tax measure — deemed the Berkeley Public Schools Educator Recruitment and Retention Act of 2020 — to be added to the 2020 ballot. The measure would provide an estimated $10 million in revenue for the district in the first year, 95% of which would go toward educator compensation, according to BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens. The other 5% would go toward recruitment for hard-to-fill positions such as special education teachers.

Despite the board’s unanimous approval of the Recruitment and Retention Act’s addition to the ballot, the decision was not without frustration. Board member Julie Sinai said she voted in favor of the measure “wholeheartedly but reluctantly” because of what the members described as a lack of state-level financial support for educators.

“We need to be paying teachers more,” Sinai said. “We’re forced to do it this way because the state refuses … to fully and fairly fund public education.”

BUSD board member Judy Appel echoed Sinai’s concerns over the potential tax, adding that the state “should be giving us the funds to compensate our excellent educators.”

The board also unanimously approved the addition of another special tax to the 2020 ballot, called the Berkeley Public Schools Facilities Safety and Maintenance Act of 2020. The tax, which would provide $7.3 million in the first year, would go toward the maintenance of infrastructure in the district.

Educator pay has been a contentious issue in BUSD and surrounding districts. In October, BUSD teachers staged an unofficial strike for increased compensation amid ongoing contract negotiations between the BFT and BUSD. That action came after Berkeley educators participated in rallies and walk-ins for higher compensation during negotiations between the union and the district.

The new contract, which was officially approved by BUSD on Wednesday, was previously overwhelmingly ratified by the union. BFT President Matt Meyer said 93% of the votes on the contract were in favor of the agreement. He added that the union saw a record number of votes on the agreement.

“We know that the new Educator Recruitment and Retention Act will make a big difference in our ability to keep serving the Berkeley community, and for us to retain our great educators,” Meyer said. “I want to let you know that our teachers feel heard.”

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