Berkeley school district says goodbye to retirees, decides on future of charter school

Sam Albillo/Staff

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Wednesday night’s emotional Berkeley Unified School District meeting marked the end of many things — the end of student director Arvin Hariri’s yearlong term, recognition of the retirement of four BUSD employees and community members, the end of months of discussion about the proposed merger between REALM Charter School and Compass Charter Schools, and the revocation of REALM’s charter.

The night started on a light note, with the recognition of BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans and his more than 30 years of service to public education by representatives from government offices on the local, county and state levels. According to Vice President Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, the district will be holding a “roast” and party in celebration of Evans on June 17 that will be open to the public.

“You will really be missed,” said Alameda County Superintendent Karen Monroe to Evans during the meeting. “I am really not sure why they are letting you retire.”

The board also recognized retiring BUSD spokesperson Charles Burress for his three-year service to the district; Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Evelyn Tamondong-Bradley, who is taking a job outside of BUSD; and retiring Berkeley Federation of Teachers President Cathy Campbell.

In her address to the board, Campbell asked that the district continue to prioritize agreeing upon a contract with the teachers in the fall after her term has ended. According to Campbell, this upcoming academic year will be the first year since 2004 that school will begin without a contract between the district and the teachers.

“I want to thank Cathy for just being, as the kids say, (a) ‘fierce’ leader,” Evans said at the meeting. “Being on the opposite end of the table with her … she is a fighter. She’s like a pitbull, but a pitbull who is highly organized (and) prepared.”

Discussions of REALM’s proposal to merge with online charter company Compass Charter Schools turned the meeting more tense.

Board members at the meeting cited concerns with Compass’ ability to cater to diversity and equity, communicate with the board and provide effective education, among other things. The board voted 3-2 to reject the merger.

The board also voted to revoke REALM’s charter with a vote of 4-1, as REALM Executive Director Victor Diaz said at an earlier meeting that REALM could not financially survive without the merger. Director Ka’Dijah Brown, who was in opposition, said the charter was important for equity and that those against REALM did not realize the “entitlements” behind their position.

“While it was difficult to try and approve an online charter, which is just something that I am so philosophically opposed to, this was about saving the students,” Hariri said during the meeting. “To every student at REALM that I failed to save or we failed to save today, I want to apologize because I know that that was your sanctuary and I know that it meant a lot to you.”

Contact Kate Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.