Berkeley to cut $2 million in public school funding, build teacher housing

A group of officials sit at a half circle wooden desk with microphones up to their faces.
Kavya Narendra Babu/Staff

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Facing financial difficulties, the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, intends to cut $2 million from its 2019-20 budget, prompting the board to deliberate over exactly how to tighten its belt at its regular meeting Wednesday.

Assistant Superintendent Pauline Follansbee and Associate Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi joined the board to discuss the cuts and presented the superintendent’s proposed reductions. If the recommendation presented were approved without any changes, it would constitute a budget reduction of $2,018,763. The district already reduced ongoing spending by almost $1.8 million last year.

“To say the least, (the board directors) understand how difficult this task has been … We have heard the passion and concern of this community,” said Interim BUSD Board President Beatriz Leyva-Cutler. “However, we all understand that cuts have to be made in the interest of our district.”

The proposed cuts range from eliminating vacant positions like Teachers on Special Assignment and the empty school bus driver position, to restructuring a program which assists homeless youth and reducing transportation costs.

One of the proposed cuts that troubled members of the BUSD Transportation Department is the elimination of a school bus mechanic position, which could compromise student and worker safety. Follansbee said, however, that the district expects to get eight new electric buses and eight new gasoline buses, which would require less maintenance than the current ones.

Some of the board members also voiced concern about a recommendation that would change the source of funding for some staff positions — including two counselor positions at Berkeley High School. The change would mean that these positions would only be funded for one year and could thereafter be cut altogether.

The board also approved a notice of violation to be sent out to REALM Charter School. Among other violations, REALM has not “reimbursed teachers for approved expenditures and has no plan to do so.” The notice also mentioned that a revocation of the charter could occur.

In response to petitions for affordable housing, the board also announced that it will look into building housing specifically for teachers in their work session before the meeting. An organization of community members called Berkeley Housing Opportunities for Municipal Employees presented on the housing crisis, providing potential models for future educator housing in Berkeley and suggesting “next steps” for the board, including looking for potential sites and getting support from the city.

Board director Ka’Dijah Brown also presented a resolution in support of the California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act, which would provide an additional $4.5 billion in California public school funding and $5.5 billion for social services.

Brown elaborated that BUSD believes that full funding of education should be a top priority for the California state legislature and the governor. She added that the district urges the state government to advocate for increases in federal special education funding and reform, as well as to support staff wages that “address California’s high cost of living.”

“It’s no secret that there is a strong need for increased state funding here in California and in our public schools, and our students honestly deserve the best educators and our educators deserve the best and most competitive compensation,” Brown said.

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