The Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, board held their bi-monthly meeting Wednesday to discuss Latinx Heritage Month, employee health care and mental health, among other topics.
Board members acknowledged Latinx Heritage Month, which takes place from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. BUSD Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel shared an upcoming community event, “¡Nuestra Gente!” where community members are encouraged to engage in performances, eat food and receive a free COVID-19 booster, if eligible.
“We appreciate the many ways in which so many of our classes and school communities are places that uplift and celebrate the rich diversity and contributions of the Latine/x community all year long,” Morthel said in a BUSD website statement.
Matt Meyer, the president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, expressed concerns regarding BUSD health care costs for instructors, which he said have gone up 13% in the past two years. During public comment, Cragmont Elementary teacher Mollie Blustein mentioned that rising health care costs for teachers in BUSD and Berkeley housing costs force her family to live paycheck to paycheck.
According to Alex Day, an ethnic studies and social living teacher at Berkeley High School, the cost of health care is set to go up 7% in January, of which BUSD employees must contribute 3.5%. Meanwhile, in the neighboring Oakland Unified School District, employees’ contribution is entirely covered by the district, Day added. He also said health care costs continue to be a “major” part of BUSD’s educator retention crisis.
“I love Berkeley, I went to school for 13 years here – kindergarten through 12th grade – and I love living in the Bay Area, but it’s unsustainable for my family if I’m going to be paying over $13,000 a year for health insurance,” Blustein said in public comment.
BUSD staff members then shared a Wellness and Safety presentation, which updated board members on district efforts in the areas of mental health, campus safety and Title IX.
This school year, the district aims to improve counseling services, continue partnerships with various Bay Area mental health organizations and reestablish the Mental Health Peer Education Program, according to BUSD Director of Student Services Phillip Shelley.
“As we share these updates, I want to note that these are highlights and not a comprehensive representation of all of our efforts,” Morthel said during the meeting. “We’re trying to focus not just on being responsive or reactive, but also proactive and preventative.”