Berkeley Unified School District parents, students and community members gathered at the school board meeting Wednesday night in support of REALM Charter School and its efforts to continue to lease space at the West Campus building at 2020 Bonar St.
REALM’s current lease of the location is set to expire June 30. Community members spoke before the board during public comment to ask that the board consider their proposals to extend the lease for an additional year while REALM looks for another location during the board’s March 22 meeting.
“It’s important for us to be able to keep the school open,” said Carl Thelen, the parent of a student at REALM.
Thelen added that he had seen his daughter thrive at the school, with her academic performance improving by two letter grades.
REALM has experienced financial struggles in the past year, including an operating deficit and cash flow difficulties. The schools had to obtain additional funding in order to meet their current obligations, according to the schools’ audited financial statements for the 2015-16 school year.
In January 2017, a notice of violation was issued to the charter schools by the district for not meeting conditions of its charter petition renewal. Violations included failing to maintain a positive ending fund balance at the conclusion of the 2015-16 school year.
Parents and community members at the meeting emphasized REALM’s importance in their community and the necessity of keeping the school in its Berkeley location until a suitable alternative could be found.
During the meeting, board members said the district had made numerous efforts to assist REALM with its financial struggles, such as providing financial input and allowing it access to the facilities at the West Campus location for an additional year longer than was required.
“It is frustrating for me as a board member that at the end of that two-year (petition renewal) process that we are put in a situation where it is up to us to basically determine whether or not it can continue, when in fact that has been the responsibility of REALM’s leadership and REALM’s board,” said board Vice President Josh Daniels during the meeting.
REALM executive director Victor Diaz stated during the meeting that he had experienced difficulty in finding an appropriate replacement location for the schools. He added that he had communicated this to district leadership and began asking about extending the lease for an additional year in October 2016.
With the understanding that REALM would vacate the location by June 30, the district had planned for some district programs — such as the Visual and Performing Art program and Career Technical Education classes — to be moved to space at the West Campus site this summer. The district also planned for the transformation of classrooms on the first floor into conference rooms or office space.
“If there are other ways that we can help support your efforts as a community we want to try and do that,” Daniels said at the meeting. “In terms of the facility and the financial advice, we’ve done what we can do.”
Parents and community members also spoke during public comment on the implementation of all-gender bathrooms on campuses throughout the district. They requested that the size of campuses and accessibility of all-gender restrooms be taken into account and that students and teachers be consulted during the process.
Executive Director of Facilities Timothy White stated during the meeting that currently, each campus has at least one single-stall all-gender restroom and that the second phase of implementation will involve the establishment of multi-stall all-gender restrooms.
Megan Bates, the parent of a first-grade student who has used an all-gender restroom put in place at Malcolm X Elementary School, asked that the board continue its efforts in implementing and improving all-gender restrooms.
“As a parent, I urge the district to continue making a safe healthy place for vulnerable student populations to exist and to learn,” Bates said during the meeting.