Opinion: Teachers and staff in Berkeley schools are struggling; district should give meaningful raises

The author, who has worked for the District for 24 years, had to pay $920 a month for Kaiser healthcare in 2015, a rate that forced him to get a second job. He supports the union demand for a 12% raise over two years.

My name is Roderick Carraway and I am a Berkeley Unified School District classified employee. I have been employed with the District since March of 1996. I love working in the District, contributing to the education of our future generations. It is an honorable and rewarding job. I am a second-generation employee of the District. My dad worked in the District from 1965 to 1995 as a custodian. There has been a Carraway employed in the District for the last 54 years.

We have a crisis occurring in the District with regard to the salaries and healthcare cost for teaching and classified staff.  I have had to work numerous second jobs. In 2015, the cost for me to have a family plan with Kaiser was $920 dollars per month. I could not afford the plan, so I went to work for Kaiser solely so I could get affordable health care for my family. I worked 80 hours per week: Monday to Friday at BUSD and Friday to Tuesday at Kaiser. Sometimes I would have to work overtime at either one of the jobs. (My monthly rate is now $765.) The reason for this: 12 years ago the District capped their contribution to employee health plans. I believe now is the time to raise the cap — it has been the same for twelve years and costs have tripled since.

Clearly, something is broken. My dad, when he worked in the District, lived in Berkeley on Virginia Street. He was a part of the community. In my entire 24 -year career, I have never been able to afford to live in Berkeley. In fact, I only know of a handful of classified employees that live in Berkeley and a few retired teachers who do. I have had to live in Oakland, San Leandro, Union City, Fremont, Newark and San Lorenzo during my employment with the District. Believe me, I would love to live in Berkeley near my job and stop having to commute 1 ½ hours or more per day.

Berkeley is a progressive community. I really believe that we can fix this. Our union will be in negotiations soon. There are classified employees that are working in positions that pay a little above minimum wage. The minimum wage in Berkeley is $15 per hour. A classified employee making $30,000 per year would see a $50 dollar per month pre-tax raise if they received a 2% increase. A 2% raise is not enough.

The District utilizes the WE CARE service training program to create a better working environment. We, the Classified Employees of the Berkeley Unified School District, do care! We care about serving our students and our staff. We care about providing them with clean, safe and well-maintained facilities. We care about feeding our students. We care about transporting them safely from home to school and back. We care about providing for the needs of all of our students, including special needs students. To BUSD administrators and Board Members: we need to see that you care. We need to see that you care about classified employees having to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. We need to see that you care about retaining good employees. We need to see that you care about our students by taking care of those that take care of them.

Roderick Carraway has worked for Berkeley Unified School District for 24 years as a custodian, grounds gardener, maintenance technician, and is currently a lead maintenance engineer. He is a married father with two children, one of whom is medically-fragile and has special needs.