Moving Beyond Fear Into the Arena of Vision

The following speech was given at the March 27, 2013 Board of Education meeting by BFT Executive Secretary Cynthia Allman.

Good Evening Board Members and Co-Superintendents,

Hello, my name is Cynthia Allman. I’m a kindergarten teacher at Malcolm X and tonight I’m speaking to you as the Executive Secretary of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.

I’m sure you’ve been listening with open hearts to the eloquent teachers who’ve spoken to you over the last few weeks of their commitment to teaching, their passion for working in Berkeley and the challenges they are facing due to stagnant pay and increasing health benefits costs. I am confident that all of you understand that you need to provide relief to the dedicated and hard-working employees that make this district function. So now it is time to determine how much relief, when and in what form.

But I think you are all a little bit stuck. You are asking the wrong question and using the wrong frame, so you are coming up with the wrong answer. You seem to be looking at all the possible uncertainties in the budget, wondering how to avoid even the slightest bit of risk in making fiscal projections, thinking about all the possible ways to spend the modest increases that are coming. It appears that you are asking “How can we hold onto as much of our surplus cash as possible in case we need it for something else?” and “What is the minimum we can give our employees in order to settle these talks?”

We urge you to ask a different question, to use a different guiding principle. It’s this: “How can we find a way to pay our employees what they need and deserve? How can we be flexible and creative in allocating our resources so that we can insure that the people who implement the mission of the district are well-compensated?”

I have been on BFT Negotiations teams for 10 years. I have been on the Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee for 5 years. I can attest to the seriousness with which our union approaches the fiscal health of this district. We are confident that our proposals are fiscally responsible and show a strong understanding of the budget and the district’s obligations.

Here are some fiscal realities as we see them. Although there are very frequent references to “deficit spending”, the Ending Fund Balance is large and continues to grow. It will increase again this very year between the second interim and the close of the budget. General fund contributions to mental health and child development programs have been less than projected. P2 is likely to come in higher than the projected ADA in the adopted budget. Even leaving aside the $1.5 million you have received from the sale of the Hillside property, we are looking at over $8 million surplus as we head into next year’s budget cycle.

BUSD can also expect increasing new revenues every year for the next seven years, thanks to Prop 30. We well understand that the early years will see modest increases and that the exact amounts remain to be seen. But the real uncertainty is not whether, but how much more revenue we will have over the coming years. It is simply untenable to tell employees that all of this new revenue is already spoken for, that there are other priorities the district has identified for this funding.

Which brings us to the most important decision you will make about this money. Will you hold employee compensation hostage to risk aversion and conservative budget assumptions? Or will you make a significant, strategic investment in your work force, in the people who make your programs succeed, in those who bring our goals and vision to life?  Imagine the energy and productivity that could be released with a raise that really means something.

Success in education is hard-won. It requires creativity, perseverance, teamwork and leadership. It requires people who are willing to go far above and beyond the expected duties of their jobs. It requires the courage to leave the comfort zone and grapple with the tough issues and seemingly intractable challenges. What it requires from this board at this time is the will to find a way, to move past the fear of risk and into the arena of vision.

Thank you.