Berkeley school board discusses possible renewal of charter school

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Michelle Kim/Staff

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The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education discussed at its Wednesday meeting potentially renewing the charter of a city charter school.

Revolutionary Education and Learning Movement, or REALM, middle and high school — the district’s sole charter school — opened in West Berkeley in August 2011. A year later, however, the school faced financial troubles because of significant deferrals in state funding.

In addition to a decline in state funding, the school spent upward of $2 million on both facilities costs and staffing, according to Victor Diaz — executive director of REALM Charter School — who presented curriculum and finance reports to the board.

In order to address spending made in the years prior to the school’s inception, Diaz said, the school expects staffing and spending cuts of approximately $246,000 by January 2016. The cuts, however, would not affect student-teacher ratios, according to Diaz.

“Like any family, we’ve had our share of successes and failures,” Diaz said at the meeting.

Board members questioned the financial viability of the school as well as possible concerns with the school’s curriculum and the lack of Berkeley residents in the student body.

Board member Karen Hemphill expressed concern that less than 80 Berkeley residents are currently enrolled in REALM’s middle and high school.

She additionally said that as a necessary element of the charter’s renewal, REALM needs to present a “sound fiscal plan” but has not done so, leading the board to feel wary about the charter renewal because the school’s financial status is not clear.

Though the school’s fiscal state was ambiguous, students — many of whom spoke during the meeting’s public hearing — said the school was not only a place for learning but also an inclusive environment in which they could pursue their own personal interests.

Various members of the community, including those who sat on REALM’s Board of Directors, also said funding for the school should be its primary focus — now more than ever.

“The charter renewal is critical. We are right at the break point where we’re lifting off the ground with the school,” said Jabari Mahiri, a professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education and a REALM board member, at the meeting. “We’re going to see even more amazing things happen in the next five years.”

The school district board will further discuss the issue and vote to potentially renew the charter at its Nov. 18 meeting.

Staff writer Daniella Wenger contributed to this report. 

Adrienne Shih is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @adrienneshih.