‘Definitely worth the cost’: Berkeley community defends K-12 staff, administration in face of budget cuts

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The Berkeley Unified School District plans to cut $1.8 million from its budget for the 2018-19 academic school year, of which about $420,000 in cuts has been approved.

BUSD board members continued discussion about proposed cuts to school administration and staff at their meeting Wednesday night. Community members voiced concerns about these proposed budget reductions, which are scheduled to be finalized at the next BUSD board meeting Feb. 21.

As a part of these proposed cuts, the school board previously considered removing various administrative and staff positions, including the dean of attendance at Berkeley High School, or BHS, the vice president at Malcolm X Elementary School and a special education behavior specialist.

At the meeting, community members spoke out against the proposed cuts to school staffing. Dozens of parents and children held signs related to the budget cuts, some bearing the statement “MX needs our vice-principal.”

During public comment, one Malcolm X Elementary School student stated that the vice principal is “definitely worth the cost.”

“Just last year there were five of us new teachers, and I’m certain we would not have all felt as successful as we do without the extra help of that administrator,” said Ariana Braga, second-grade teacher at Malcolm X Elementary School. “What attracted me to Malcolm X was this intense level of support. … Please don’t cut this position. Don’t make it harder to support our many students at Malcolm (X).”

BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans called the budget issue “very difficult and more complex” than in recent years, because the discussion simultaneously revolves around budget reductions and new expenditures.

Following the community outcry during public comment, Evans announced that the Malcolm X Elementary School vice principal and the BHS dean of attendance would no longer be considered in the superintendent’s budget cut recommendations.

As the meeting progressed, the board continued to add proposed reductions to the budget. Among these proposed reductions were a cut of $50,000 in legal fees, a cut of $75,000 in consulting fees and the removal of three safety officers at BHS, whose combined salaries total about $202,000.

“I’m hoping even as we continue to make these last hard cuts that people can also hopefully take a moment to recognize the work that staff … and the community have done to keep our schools as whole as possible for our students,” said BUSD Board President Beatriz Leyva-Cutler.

The BUSD board also moved to issue a notice of violation to REALM Charter Schools for a projected negative ending balance. The charter was renewed in October 2016 with the condition that they maintain solvency and a positive ending balance. Similarly, the board, under strain from a budget gap, also issued a notice of violation in January 2017.

Cade Johnson is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @cadejohnson98.