Opinion: In wake of sexual assault activism, Berkeley voters must support teachers

Voting against Measure E on March 3 to express anger over BUSD’s handling of sexual assault reports will hurt the people who are helping students the most – teachers and staff.

There’s been a lot of talk among Berkeleyans about voting down some or all of the March 3rd ballot measures that address the BUSD budget: funding the renovation of the Berkeley Community Theater, making buildings earthquake-safe, raising teacher salaries, etc.. Many people want to express their anger and dissatisfaction over the district’s handling of sexual assault cases in a way that will be felt. “Boycott BUSD until they get their act together” is something I’ve read multiple times.

I am a Berkeley High School senior. I attended all of our walkouts and the most recent board meeting. And I am telling you that if you are a concerned voter who cares about the injustices that girls here have been facing, voting against the district is the exact opposite of what we need right now. In particular, Measure E, the tax designed to raise teacher and staff salaries, cannot be voted down. Teachers at BHS constantly go above and beyond to support us – almost every student, every alum, has at least one story of a teacher that emotionally helped, healed, or saved them.

And no, it’s not more complicated than this. Your anger at the district is warranted — I share it. But boycotting the election to stop more funding to the district is not going to accomplish anything that you want to accomplish — the superintendent will remain the same superintendent, the board will be comprised of the same members. Many of the demands created by my peers require funding that will need to come from somewhere. No, these ballot measures won’t directly go toward these demands. But they will fund solutions to other pressing issues. And if these solutions aren’t made possible on March 3rd, the reforms the women and girls of BHS beg for will be delayed further.

Teachers are treasures. They often provide the guidance and stability students crave when no one else can or will. Teachers have supported me and others through depression, panic attacks, difficult home lives, sexual trauma, problems with peers at school, family members being hospitalized, addiction, stress and anxiety, and much more. A couple weeks ago I asked a much beloved teacher about this potential boycott, and she flat out told me that if they don’t get the 7% that is promised if Measure E passes, we will start to lose our younger teachers to other districts. This is not theoretical. It’s real, and it impacts real peoples’ livelihoods and mental health.

BHS cannot afford to lose its teachers. Yet teachers cannot afford to remain at BHS. A new teacher, with only a BA, will make $41,000 in their first year. Teachers can take additional college courses and earn more credits to move up the pay scale. However, time for college classes is in short supply among our newest and most affected educators. Take one of my former teachers: He’s now in his fourth year at BHS. He has to work a second job three days a week, to support his wife who stays home to care for their young child because, compared to paying for childcare in the area, that is the most economical choice for them. On top of that, he spends 8 to 12 unpaid hours a week grading, writing lesson plans, and corresponding with students and colleagues. He can’t be expected to add a college course on top of all this to advance himself to the next column on the pay scale matrix. Additionally, no teacher’s salary keeps up with the rate of inflation (they get around a 1% increase every year).

Say what you will about the upper district bureaucracy, but teachers don’t deserve to have their livelihoods impacted over this: especially given that most of them have been nothing but forces of good, through this issue and beyond. On top of their hours of unpaid labor spent on all the things necessary to run a class aside from actually teaching, they put in vast amounts of emotional labor with their students that isn’t in the job description. As Rebecca Levenson, BHS Stop Harassing’s adult advocate put it, “The only people you’re going to hurt are the very people who’ve had girls’ backs this entire time”.

Alix Abrahams is a senior at Berkeley High. She participated in the recent rallies calling attention to sexual abuse issues in the district.