After voting to continue three of four 9.5-hour preschool classes for the next school year, the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education decided at its meeting June 22 not to use any more of its funds to keep the last classroom open.
The issue was raised at the meeting by director Josh Daniels, who said he brought it up because he had learned that City Council members were open to using city funds to subsidize the preschool programs and planned to submit it for the upcoming City Council meeting.
But Daniel’s proposal to keep the last classroom open through a combination of school district and city mitigation funds was turned down.
Daniels said there was a clear need for the extended preschools, and he believed having the school district contribute $25,000 and receiving $35,000 from the city “in a time when we’re scrounging for dollars” would “make financial sense.”
Another director on the school board, Karen Hemphill, believed otherwise.
She said in light of the uncertainties surrounding the state budget and the possibility that school districts might be facing additional cuts, she believed taking more from the funds would not have been prudent, adding that the board has already allocated $385,000 from its general funds for the preschool program.
“It’s difficult to talk about extending programs when we’re not sure we can even keep the commitments we have made across the board,” she said.
With Daniels’ suggestion off the table, Pablo Paredes, a parent to a child who attends the preschool program and chair of the School Governance Council, said not many alternate funding methods are available.
Another option, Paredes said, has been to use additional Berkeley Schools Excellence Project funds the council had not needed, but that proposal was vetoed by Nancy Hoeffer, manager of the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program. The council was told the 9.5-hour preschools did not meet the fund qualifications because they did not serve all the students in Pre-K and were not an enrichment program, Paredes said.
Paredes said he and the other members of the council plan to resubmit a new proposal that addresses these concerns, but if that also falls through, the best option they have left will be complete city funding.
Though allocating funds for preschools is currently scheduled as an item for the City Council meeting on July 12, the district and city should understand this issue needs to be resolved as soon as possible, Paredes said.
“In order to get the classroom open and in order to go through the complicated vetting process, you have to start that process in July,” Paredes said. “So it’s already started. Secretaries are already looking at people’s applications. By the end of July and beginning of August, you’ve already started to fill classrooms.”
According to Hemphill, further discussions between the school district and city are possible if the city is willing to allocate funds for the preschool, but she said she would rather wait until the state budget is finalized before making any further commitments.
Daniels said he believes communication with the city will be increasingly important as the district looks for ways to maintain its preschools.
“We face a long-term financial problem in terms of preschool,” he said. “We decided on a one-year basis to continue the program as is while staff looked at a long-term solution, but we hope the city will be involved and at the table.”
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