On Wednesday, September 7, The Berkeley Unified School District School Board convened, discussing compensation for teachers writing recommendation letters, speech language pathologist (SLP) assessment limits, the 2021-22 Unaudited Actuals, and the Milvia Street Project.
During the public comment section of the meeting, several teachers spoke about the need to either financially compensate teachers for writing letters of recommendation, or grant them release days.
“Between now and November 15, I will easily spend 30 hours writing letters of recommendation,” said Korianna Austera, a Math 3 and Advanced Math 3 teacher. “And where will these 30 hours come from? Largely from my own unpaid time on weekends and after school.”
Austera added that, since the beginning of this school year, she has already received 32 recommendation letter requests.
Johannah Bearg, a biology teacher, also commented on how teachers lacking sufficient resources to provide all students with a letter of recommendation creates an issue of equity.
“If I were to limit the numbers (of recommendation letters)I was willing to write, it would negatively impact my students and put a burden on other teachers,” Bearg said. “Students who do not have the family support encouraging them to ask first, in June of the prior year, find it harder to get a letter because many teachers are maxed out. This is an equity issue.”
Throughout public comment, multiple BUSD Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) expressed their support for a proposal that would limit the number of speech language assessments SLPs are expected to complete in the course of a year. With each assessment taking 10-15 hours, the SLPs discussed how the absence of a formal assessment limit prevents them from completing many aspects of their job successfully.
“(Last year) I was expected to complete over 20 assessments,” said Andrea Gallegos, an SLP for BUSD. “For myself alone, that was an additional 300 hours on top of case managing up to 48 students, providing direct services, supporting students through MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports,) and attending IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings.”
The board also received a presentation on the 2021-22 Unaudited Actuals, describing the amount the district spent in expenditures and earned in revenue last year. The presentation focused on the District’s Unrestricted General Fund, which holds the district’s operating revenue.
According to the fiscal team, The Unrestricted General Fund’s ending balance exceeded predictions by $1.1 million. This surplus was partially attributed to the lower expenditures for employee benefits, as a result of the higher than expected amount of vacant positions and substitute teachers last year.
Towards the end of the meeting, the board approved the removal of a building for district operations from the Milvia Street Project, the planned construction of a new parking garage on Milvia Street, its purpose being to provide more parking for BHS staff.
John Casile, Executive Director of the Facilities Division, recommended that the district operations building not be included in the parking garage, as it was revealed that the parking garage will require a “short-span” structural, which would impede the use of the parking garage as an operations building. Additionally, the operation facilities would produce added noise, air, and light pollution, which would require strong mitigation strategies.
The planned parking garage has 220 parking spaces and rooftop tennis courts, and is projected to cost $27.5 million. Though, some board members suggested that before BUSD continues attempting to build a new parking garage, they should explore purchasing parking spaces at Center Street Parking Garage from the city, which would allow them to use the space allocated for the new parking garage for other purposes.
“I don’t want to have to go before the community and not have an answer to this very simple question: what did we do to make sure we could partner with the city before we spent x amount of money building a new parking lot? And then tell them I don’t have space to do x, y, or z for your child,” Vice President Laura Babitt said.
Casile committed to continuing to explore the option of purchasing parking spaces from the City of Berkeley.