Berkeley school board approves ballot measure to reduce class sizes

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On Wednesday, the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education voted to pass a resolution to place the 2016 Berkeley Schools Excellence Program, or BSEP — a measure geared toward helping reduce student-to-teacher ratios at Berkeley public schools — on the November 2016 election ballot in the city of Berkeley.

First passed by Berkeley voters in 1986, BSEP is a local tax measure that currently provides 20 percent of the funding for Berkeley public schools. The 2016 measure aims to continue to fund programs such as libraries, art initiatives and music instruction but is more driven toward improving instruction in areas such as class sizes, classroom support and expanded course offerings.

Structural changes to the 2016 measure include a shortened term length from 10 to eight years, an adjusted tax on each square foot of commercial and residential space and the substitution of a local Consumer Price Index to measure these tax rates. Elementary school class sizes from kindergarten through fifth grade will also be adjusted to fit a schoolwide average student-to-teacher ratio of 23-to-one.

“We feel that together, these changes will ensure that the next BSEP measure will continue to be financially sustainable while adjusting to the needs of the students,” said Natasha Beery, director of the BSEP and Community Relations.

The 2016 measure will allocate $20 million to supporting Berkeley public schools, 66 percent of which will go toward class-size reduction, while the rest will be used to help fund technology and middle school counseling. A reserve will also be set aside in order to ensure that funds will be accessible for the duration of the measure.

The school board additionally expressed support toward creating three new middle school counseling positions within the district.

Berkeley voters passed the first BSEP measure in a series of acts to fund programs in schools in 1986. These measures were subsequently renewed in 1994, 2004 and 2006.

The meeting also featured a presentation delivered by Kacy Robinson on recruitment and retention of teachers of color in Berkeley schools in accordance with the district’s ongoing goals of diversity inclusion in equity work. These goals come in light of the broader trend of teacher shortages within the state of California, said Robinson.

Strategies to retain teachers of color in Berkeley schools include instituting active recruitment, improving processes and systems of recruitment, strengthening relationships with provisioning programs and increasing follow-up and mentorship programs between teachers of color. Information about teachers’ experiences is gauged through the Teachers of Color Network Survey and feedback is collected from school principals.

The BSEP measure will be placed on the 2016 ballot, which city residents will vote on in November.

Cassandra Vogel is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @cass_vogxz.