Berkeley school board votes on short-term plan to account for potential overenrollment

Chen Gong/Staff

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In an attempt to account for potential overenrollment in elementary schools, Berkeley Unified School District’s Board of Education voted Wednesday to make use of existing rooms throughout the district for classes next year.

After compiling reports of past enrollment trends, Francisco Martinez, district admissions manager, projected there will be an additional 33 students in both kindergarten and transitional kindergarten classes in the 2015-16 school year compared to this year. Based on numbers from the district’s demographic and enrollment reports, Martinez predicted a need for two to three additional classrooms to account for projected enrollment.

The new classrooms, which would be used at Jefferson Elementary School and Rosa Parks Elementary School, are existing flexible rooms, or “flex rooms,” according to board president Judy Appel. Flex rooms are additional rooms currently used for student services and special events, or for art and science activities.

Though Appel said it was unlikely that the schools would need a third classroom, another room at Jefferson Elementary is potentially available for use.

In discussing short-term options, the board proposed partially consolidating transitional kindergarten programs to one of three existing preschool programs, which could free up rooms at elementary schools. Superintendent Donald Evans, however, explained at the meeting that staff at schools felt concerned about the consolidation’s implementation.

Ultimately, the board voted down the idea for consolidation because only two classrooms are needed, opting instead to use flexible rooms.

Despite its decision Wednesday, the board is still discussing a medium-term plan to account for overenrollment in the future.

“We have had a lot of discussions at the board level about how we are going to accommodate increased enrollment next year in a way that would best serve our students,” Appel said.

Among the possibilities are portable classrooms at schools such as Thousand Oaks, John Muir and LeConte elementary schools, according to Appel.

Parents whose students attend Thousand Oaks Elementary School, however, voiced concerns that building portable classrooms on campus could take public space from the community because any potential portable classrooms would be installed on a blacktop playground at the school.

Additionally, parents raised safety concerns about the blacktop area not being gated, were portable classrooms to be added.

The board is also considering more long-term solutions, such as possibly constructing a new elementary school in the city, according to board vice president Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, who proposed the idea of building a K-8 school.

The specifics of the possible elementary school are still to be decided by the board.

“We are also looking to the subsequent years and how we continue to further our mission,” Appel said. “(We want to) make sure we can provide a positive school environment for all of our kids.”

Contact Lenin Silva at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @LeninSilvaNunez.