Community opposition to cuts, discussion of audit at Berkeley school district meeting

Amanda Ramirez/Senior Staff

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Parents and teachers showed up in opposition to proposed funding cuts affecting an equity program for struggling children and stood in support of teachers unable to afford city housing at Wednesday’s Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, board meeting.

The board’s second meeting of 2019 started off with a celebratory presentation of a Socratic seminar by a group of eighth graders from Willard Middle School but was soon followed by a more serious public comment session that brought many in the audience to their feet in silent support. Signs read “Black Education Matters” and “Don’t Cut Services from the Underserved.”

In deciding over the financial future of the school district, the BUSD board has proposed a decrease in funding that would affect the Office of Family Engagement and Equity, or OFEE, an office of specialists who work with children in need and provide support to underrepresented families. Both parents and teachers approached the podium in public comment to express their disapproval of the budget cuts that would affect 40 percent of students in the school district.

“We have seen the (OFEE’s) impact made to family and student’s lives,” said Laura Babitt, a member of the Parent Advisory Committee, or PAC. “The PAC would ask that you ensure equity.”

In between calls to ensure family support and help for underrepresented students, some teachers from throughout BUSD discussed their own struggles given the waning affordability of housing in Berkeley with their current salaries. Amanda Moreno, a teacher at Berkeley High School, was one of several teachers who appealed to the board, saying that she cannot afford to live in the community anymore.

“I have colleagues working second jobs, evenings and weekends to make ends meet,said Eric Silverberg, a teacher librarian for BUSD who added he is living paycheck-to-paycheck. “Berkeley’s diversity is one of the reasons my wife and I chose to live here. Help ensure that that diversity does not disappear.”

The board also held a discussion about the need to find precise indicators for student achievement, based on a 2018 audit report. Isaiah Roter presented findings for the board’s audit committee and explained that BUSD had maintained the state-mandated, minimum reserve requirement, yet cautioned against unqualified optimism.

“The district is going to be facing some serious fiscal issues next year and in the years to come,” Roter said after discussing the met reserve percentage.

According to BUSD Associate Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi, the audit also proposed two ways of monitoring the proficiency of students — following the percentage of students who are proficient in either a single or a combination of three assessments: Smarter Balanced Assessment, STAR and Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

Ty Alper, a director on the board, said he would have to look carefully before choosing which indicators the school district would use.

“(It is the) beginning of a conversation that I think hopefully gets us back to the place we were before,” Scuderi said.

Contact Boyce Buchanan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @BuchananBoyce.