Berkeley Unified School District board approves City Council to use board room for public meetings

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The Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, board approved an agreement Thursday to allow the city of Berkeley to utilize the school district board room for public meetings, after years of negotiations.

The city will have exclusive access to the board room and its supporting facilities for public meetings Tuesdays and Thursdays after 3 p.m. In exchange, the city will pay the district a one-time sum of $600,000 to cover a share of the district’s construction cost related to the board room project, as well as $1,200 for each day the city uses the room.

The board voted 4-1 to approve the agreement in its Wednesday meeting, with President Josh Daniels opposing the proposition. Daniels said in an email he is concerned that the one-time payment does not account for costs the district incurred for facility features that were specifically requested by the city. He also said the agreement went beyond an initial request by the city to use the space only on Tuesdays.

City Council agreed to hold meetings in the board room for three months in 2016 and then returned to Old City Hall but has been seeking alternatives since. Old City Hall, located at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, has failed to meet standards for earthquake safety for more than six years.

The agreement must be approved by City Council before the space is utilized and is on the agenda for the Oct. 30 council meeting, city spokesperson Matthai Chakko said in an email.

At the meeting, school board Vice President Judy Appel said the agreement is the best use of taxpayer dollars, as developing the facilities was costly for the district. The room features what Appel called “state-of-the-art” technology, including audiovisual infrastructure and broadcast facilities.

“There’s been a lot of communication and some miscommunication,” Appel said during the meeting. “We’re all able to work beyond that and come up with a contract, an agreement that I believe is best for the people of Berkeley.”

Appel moved the item for approval, and a vote was held without discussion.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín attended the meeting to present City Measure O, which is on the November election ballot, to the school board, and expressed his support for the agreement.

“I think it will not only increase opportunities for our citizens to engage in our local civic process, but it will work to bring our two agencies closer together,” Arreguín said at the meeting.

Also at the meeting, the board heard from Kamar O’Guinn, who is leading the district’s new African American Student Success Project. The project has identified Black students from BUSD middle schools and Berkeley High School and plans to provide one-on-one coaching and community-building services.

Olivia Nouriani is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @olivianouriani.