Opinion

Average pay not good enough for valued Berkeley teachers

This past Thursday, February 19th, Berkeley teachers visited businesses across the city as part of our annual “Teachers Across Berkeley” event. We brought them a new placard to join or replace last year’s model — designed by King Middle School teacher Julie Searle. This year’s placard features a quilt motif and the sentiment that Berkeley and its teachers are “United For Our Children.”

The dedication of Berkeley teachers is no secret at this point. From Transitional Kindergarten to Berkeley High School, Berkeley preschools to Berkeley Adult School, BUSD teachers tirelessly work to empower and educate students of all ages.

The generosity and support for BUSD schools from the Berkeley community is also no secret. Berkeley’s parcel tax, Measure A, supports one-third of all BUSD teachers, helps to maintain some of the smallest class sizes in the Bay Area, funds incredible arts and expanded course offerings, and serves as an enduring reminder of the value we collectively place on public education here in Berkeley. Together, we seek to make Berkeley schools truly world-class.

However, in order for our schools to retain their central, strong position in our community, teaching in BUSD must be attractive not just for reasons of idealism and dedication to a more just, well-educated society — teaching in BUSD must be a sound financial decision for educators as well. This year alone, BUSD teachers have been hit with 35-40% increases in their out-of-pocket health-insurance premiums. Factor in the the ever-climbing cost of living in the Bay Area and teachers are faced with the inability to live in the community where they work, dimming prospects of home ownership, and a growing monthly struggle simply to make ends meet.

World-class schools must be the center of their communities; they must be sound, stable institutions where educators can make a career.

Unfortunately, BUSD teachers are not compensated at world-class levels. Recent reports show that Berkeley teachers’ compensation is just about average when compared with other districts in the area.

Put simply, average will not be good enough. Already, San Francisco teachers have signed a contract guaranteeing 12% raises over three years, and Oakland teachers are working towards a contract with at least a 10% raise over 18 months. Looking farther afield, the state of California is expected to lose upwards of 100,000 teachers to retirement over the next several years, while enrollment in teacher credentialing is in decline. In post-Proposition 30 California, increased funding for surrounding districts combined with a rapidly growing teacher shortage mean that BUSD must fight to recruit and retain excellent educators.

No longer can we rest on our laurels and our reputation; increasingly, we must compete.

I imagine a world where the best and brightest young adults flock to the Bay Area — not because they seek high-paying jobs at Twitter and Facebook, Google and Yahoo, but because they know that the Bay Area is the leader in public education nationwide.

Here, public school teachers are valued as the foundation of an informed, empowered democracy. Here, teachers are compensated according to their value. Here, idealism and pragmatism meet–educators don’t just make a difference for their students, they can make a life for themselves. In Berkeley, I believe we can make this a reality.

On March 9, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers and Berkeley Unified School District will meet to begin negotiations on a new contract for BUSD teachers. I urge all members of the Berkeley community to stay informed as this process gets underway. Together we can create the world-class district our students deserve.

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John Becker is the Vice President of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. He teaches English in the Arts & Humanities Academy at Berkeley High School.