Hello Superintendent Ford Morthel and the Berkeley School Board,
I am Matt Meyer, President of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. I want to start off by welcoming our new Superintendent to Berkeley. Our staff is excited to work in collaboration with you as we strive to provide an excellent education to our Berkeley community. I know many of our educators are eager to get to know you.
It is exciting to see our students back at our school sites, bustling with curiosity and wonder. There is a renewed energy that accompanies school being back in session. This comes from our students and creates vibrant classrooms.
As the year starts again, we are back at the Negotiating table. There are many unresolved issues that we hope the District can engage with us on. I actually believe that we all see things the same way. Our staff needs to be paid fair wages that will keep us in the profession and make us competitive with neighboring districts. Meetings that require teacher and case manager participation outside of the work day should be paid. If a teacher takes in students from another classroom for the day, they should be compensated. There is too much variation in our class sizes which harms relationship building and our ability to serve our students well. We need to get these issues resolved so we can fully focus on starting this year off well.
Our Elementary and Secondary class size proposals provide a rationale for how to allocate resources. The class size average as written into BSEP and our contract does not provide enough constraints to ensure that class sizes will actually be near those averages. As our school population stabilizes, our proposals will allow the District to plan ahead of time so we don’t end up with a classroom of 27 first graders without anyone to hire. Having this process be transparent and contractual is fair, cost-effective and is in the best interest of our students.
I know that compensation is a difficult topic to speak about. As you heard last year, our staff put themselves in front of the public eye, shared their real stories, their love for the work they do and the financial struggles they faced. They continue to do so because they want to stay in this work and our community needs them.
25% of our certificated staff has been hired in the past two years. One out of 4 case managers, lit coaches, counselors, classroom teachers, and school psychologists are new. They do not have relationships with our families and with their sites. They will build them but I can’t stress enough how each person we lose is bigger than it seems. It is not just a loss to their site, small school or department. It is a loss to our families. It is a loss to our community. Since we are a full inclusion district, it means starting over for our case managers or if they are a case manager, learning how to work closely with 20-30 staff members and learning the needs of the entire case load all at once. We need to show our staff that they are valued and that they can make a career here. Our students and families deserve the highest quality educators.
All of our proposals fall in line with current budget realities. They recognize cost of living increases never experienced in many of our lifetimes. They address real working condition concerns our members have. Other nearby districts that have already settled contracts are receiving near or more than what we are asking for. All of them. If we don’t match and beat them, we will be on the path to the least paid school employees in the county. From that, we will not recover. We must take advantage of years of more funding to catch up to our neighboring districts. We need to know that staff and students are a priority in this district. Let’s get this year started off right, settle our contract and focus on teaching and learning.