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No Cuts To School Sites

The following speech was given at the February 7, 2018 Board of Education meeting by BFT President Cathy Campbell.

Good Evening Board Members and Superintendent Evans,

My name is Cathy Campbell and I am the President of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.

I’m here tonight to urge the Board in the strongest possible terms to reject the staff recommendations for cuts to vital services at school sites, and to consider alternative cuts that will cause much less harm to students.  I also want to implore the Board to look at the decisions regarding 2018-2019 in the larger context that includes planning for employee compensation negotiations next year.

Our school sites are where the core mission of our district takes place.  They are where teaching and learning occur.  They are where students spend the bulk of their waking hours during the week.  The school site is where vital relationships that fuel positive school climate, safety, professional learning, and student growth are formed.

Of the site cuts STILL proposed by district staff, the MX Vice-Principal, and the Safety Officers provide directly, daily support to students.  The Dean of Attendance at BHS provides vital services to help students get to school and to be IN class.  In addition, the presence of this administrator helps to make BHS function as a whole community.  We feel very strongly that BHS cannot function well for students, families and staff with a loss of another administrator (after losing a Vice-Principal during the Great Recession), a 12% loss in administrative capacity.

It is concerning and unacceptable that staff is proposing new ONGOING expenditures for clerical support for DISTRICT staff while proposing the elimination of CRITICAL SITE-BASED supports, including the Vice-Principal position at Malcolm X, the Dean of Attendance and Safety Officers at BHS.  As representatives of the public, we urge the Board to put SITES FIRST and to reject any scenario that sacrifices site supports in favor of new spending elsewhere.  This includes the $420,000 in additional possible new ONGOING spending listed by staff.

We urge the Board to remember that teachers did not get a raise this year, and they will receive a very small raise next year.  This is not a sustainable situation.  Both new ongoing and one-time money should be conserved to prepare for compensation negotiations next year.  Our community is paying attention to decisions made this year with an eye toward next year.

There are alternative cuts that this Board can choose that will cause less harm to students.  First, we have been shocked to find that BUSD’s legal expenses have doubled in the last five years.  We encourage the Board to set a target for staff to reduce these expenses in a gradual way over 2-3 years, starting with a $100,000 reduction in 2018-2019.  To be proposing that there be fewer counselors, no Washington safety monitor, no MX VP, and fewer BHS Safety Officers, as was originally proposed, while having run away legal costs is shameful.  The Board should lead in examining WHY these costs have doubled in the last few years.  We have several out of control spending patterns. This is one of them and it must be addressed, especially as we prepare for compensation negotiations next year.

In addition, we urge the Board to include a cut to our “Consultants” line item of MORE than $50,000; to eliminate unfilled positions; to move our TK program back to elementary sites if appropriate rooms are clearly available; and to reach an agreement with the City of Berkeley to bring in new ongoing revenue.

We also urge the Board to look closely at two programs that require substantial General Fund contributions in order to balance their budgets: Special Education and Food Services.  We urge the Board to expedite the “sunshine” of the consultant’s report regarding our Special Education program.  As the Board knows, Special Education costs increased by $1.9 million between 14-15 ands 15-16, and increased another $1.6 million between 15-16 and 16-17.  That increase is roughly equal to the amount of cuts the Board plans to make for 18-19.  We urge the Board to work with staff to at least guarantee that costs will not increase again this year.  This needs to be a very HIGH priority for this Board, and I know the Board set that intention at your January retreat.

In addition, we want to point out that the General Fund contribution to our Food program, which is not required by law, increased from $630,000 in 15-16 to $1,000,000 in 16-17.  The contribution is projected to decrease this year, but early signs indicate this may not occur.  We urge the Board to focus on this fund as well, and we thank Board President Daniels for his work in this regard.

We urge the Board to preserve vital site-based supports for students, and thank you for your attention this evening.