Choice of New Superintendent Critical Decision

The following speech was given at the September 12, 2012 Board of Education Meeting by BFT President Cathy Campbell.

Good Evening Board Members and Superintendent Huyett,

My name is Cathy Campbell and I am the President of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. 

I am here this evening to talk with you about the choice of our next Superintendent here in Berkeley.  I want to focus on serious considerations that must be given to the choice of a Broad Academy trained Superintendent for Berkeley.   I also want to restate a concern I have raised previously with the Board about compensation for the new Superintendent.

As you know, the Broad Superintendents Academy is a training sponsored by the Broad Foundation, a California-based foundation, built on the housing and insurance empire of billionaire Eli Broad.  Along with the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation, Broad makes up the triumvirate of philanthropies spending millions of dollars to influence public education in our country.

This foundation and its academy promote educational reform through support of charter schools; teacher evaluations and teacher pay based on student scores on standardized tests and a business-model approach to schools.  They encourage "disruptive change".

In districts where Broad-trained superintendents have been hired there is a pattern of adversarial and unproductive relationships with teachers unions.  Even in Rochester, New York, where the teachers' union is led by one of the most reform-minded leaders in our country, Adam Urbanski, director of the Teachers' Union Reform Network, the teachers eventually voted, with a turnout of more than 80%, that they had no confidence in their Broad-trained Superintendent, Jean-Claude Brizard.  Mr. Brizard is now the Superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools, and we all know what is happening there.

Berkeley is not the size of these districts, clearly, and in Berkeley we have forged very powerful partnerships between the union and the district focused on teaching and learning, on improving student achievement.  The history of Broad-trained superintendents, including in places like Rochester, with a similar commitment to high standards, to a focus on student achievement and the impact of all actions on students and families, including at the bargaining table, and to partnership rather than confrontation, is not a good fit for our current needs in this community.

In Washington, D.C., the Broad Foundation was very supportive, in a public way, of a proposal by Michelle Rhee to tie teacher pay to student test scores.  The consideration of this Board of a Broad-trained candidate raises questions and concerns about similar proposals coming to Berkeley.  These proposals are highly controversial all across our nation, and we believe that the Board will need to address these concerns and questions immediately if they proceed to hire Dr. Heatley. 

 As I think most of you know, our sister district Oakland Unified had three Broad-trained superintendents in a row.  The result was an astounding increase in the number of charter schools, a revolving door of leadership and senior staff, an adversarial relationship with the teachers' union and an $89 million deficit when the district was returned to local control.

In Berkeley, as you've seen in recent district publications, we are making progress in closing our very significant equity gaps.  Many of us want to accelerate the rate of change and that is understandable.  The best way for us to do that is to continue our powerful partnerships, to keep a laser-like focus on teaching and learning, to answer the critical questions of our response to intervention system and to invest resources, time and energy into thoughtful, high leverage change.  The choice of a Broad-minded superintendent here in Berkeley will not further these goals.

Lastly, I want to again urge the Board to show leadership by not increasing the total compensation offered to this position.  Most employees in Berkeley have gone three years without a raise and many see their net income decrease each year due to the cost of health benefits.  To increase the compensation of the leader of our district would be inappropriate at this time and would have a devastating impact on morale.  The status quo compensation for this position is one of the most competitive in the state.  We urge the Board to hold the line on total compensation for this position.

Perhaps more than any other decision this Board will make, this choice will have ramifications for years for students, families, employees and our community.  We thank you for your attention this evening and hope that you will give these ideas and questions your most careful consideration.