A series of contract negotiations was approved Wednesday by the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, or BFT, that will change teacher salaries and classroom sizes.
After the previous one-year contract expired in June, the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, and the union started negotiating on a three-year contract for the school years 2022-23, 2023-24 and 2024-25, according to a BUSD press release. Approved by 89% of BUSD, the new contract aims to improve relationships between students and teachers and ensure financial stability for teachers amidst high inflation, according to BFT President Matt Meyer.
“Not only is our district not really as competitive with wages as many of our neighboring districts, which makes it harder to recruit and retain our teachers, but additionally the ability to get by on these previous salaries just isn’t cutting it,” Meyer said.
Under the new contract, BFT members will receive a 6% increase in salary retroactively effective July 1, 2022, and an additional 6% increase July 1, 2023.
The 12% increase aims to keep Berkeley salaries competitive in Alameda County, according to a BUSD press release.
Last year’s contract included only a 1% increase in salary for teachers, but despite the additional income from the new contract, Meyer said staff will continue to struggle with necessities and paying rent and mortgages as inflation continues to rise.
“People have been leaving our profession and have been leaving the Bay Area, and it’s been getting harder and harder to recruit and retain our teachers,” Meyer said. “We need to be doing everything we can to make sure that our schools are fully staffed.”
There are multiple factors that go into determining a teacher’s salary, Meyer explained. Incoming money from the state determines how much money is available to divide among staff. Some schools are also limited by their student population — as enrollment declines, so does the funding.
In previous contracts, there was no language to address classroom sizes which left classrooms “extremely large,” Meyer added. With the goal of enriching the relationships between teachers and students, the new contract recommends limiting classroom sizes to 23 students per teacher.
“This agreement keeps experienced teachers in our classrooms and advances the district’s goal to support our students throughout their academic experience at BUSD,” said Ka’Dijah Brown, president of BUSD Board of Education, in the press release.
The contract also addresses a reduction in workload for general staff such as speech pathologists in order for them to have time to conduct both assessments and student interventions.
Despite overwhelming support from BFT and BUSD, Meyer said he believes the school district is still “treading water.”
“The vote itself shows that our members are pleased with this agreement,” Meyer said. “We also know that we need to continue to fight for more funding from the state because our schools still are not funded in a way that will make public education sustainable in the long run.”