The Berkeley school district cuts are short-sighted

CITY AFFAIRS: The Berkeley Unified School District is making a $1.8 million budget cut that will negatively affect students and staff alike

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Alexander Hong/Staff

The Berkeley Unified School District board agreed to a nearly $1.8 million budget cut at its Wednesday meeting — a necessary decision that will harm students and staff members across the city.

The reductions come despite $3.7 million in new, ongoing revenue because of a quickly growing burden of pensions and special education costs. To remain on firm financial footing and preempt emergency cuts down the line, the district decided the reductions were necessary.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board agreed to slash the homeless student materials fund, legal costs and consulting fees. These cuts, amounting to roughly $200,000, were the finishing touches of a larger, already agreed upon $1.6 million budget cut finalized in the last few weeks, which included cutting security officers from Berkeley High School.

And though the board passed over more controversial cuts, these cuts are not easy to swallow.

One of the cuts made at yesterday’s meeting jeopardizes the education of some of the district’s most vulnerable students — its homeless students. Homelessness is a persistent and serious problem for Berkeley schools. The state has even identified BUSD as a district that needs to better serve its homeless students, according to board president Josh Daniels. To cut money from this fund is short-sighted.

The money in the homeless student supplies fund has not been used for several years, but that doesn’t mean worthy students won’t need the funding soon. Cuts generally always seem to affect low-income students the most, and this specific cut follows that trend.

On Feb. 7, the board agreed to cut two Berkeley High safety officers. Safety officers are integral to the BHS community. If there’s an emergency, these officers are the first to call Berkeley Police Department for help. In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, cutting security seems like an unwise decision. The board said it could replace safety officers with substitute officers, but these staffers wouldn’t have the same training that the officers do.

And these officers aren’t nameless faces in the hallway — they’ve built connections with high schoolers and staffers. They’re not just security guards, but community members who serve as mentoring figures to young students.

Previously, the board considered slashing two additional safety officers, but rightly decided against it Wednesday after heated backlash from the community — the board listened to the community’s needs and demands. As the board considers the future of the district’s budget, it must learn from this experience and avoid cutting the areas of education that are most important to the community.

The Berkeley school district can’t just keep cutting and cutting valuable student and staff resources to avoid running out of money. While these are preemptive cuts, the board needs to make appropriate, long-term, holistic considerations that take future wage increases and pension growth into account.

A cautionary tale unfolds to the south: Oakland Unified School District is currently facing $9 million in budget cuts, and the Berkeley school district needs to make sure it doesn’t face the same fate.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.