BUSD hosts town hall to discuss 2020 ballot measures

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The Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, held a town hall to discuss relevant education and funding 2020 ballot measures with the community at Longfellow Middle School on Thursday evening.

The meeting centered around a newly proposed measure surrounding an educator recruitment and retention parcel tax that would help increase teacher salaries.

The meeting also covered possible renewals of Measures H and I, both of which Berkeley voters passed in 2010 to support BUSD public schools. At the evening’s start, BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens and John Calise, executive director of facilities, presented on the measures’ background, reasoning and essential components before those in attendance broke off into smaller groups for individual discussions.

“We hope — through these conversations — you’ll have learned more about these measures, the underlying rationale for these measures, the timeline of these measures and had the opportunity to provide feedback for these measures,” Stephens said of the night’s agenda at the meeting’s start.

Measure H, a parcel tax, provided funds for BUSD facilities’ upkeep and was a continuation of Measure BB passed by voters in 2000 as the Berkeley Schools Facilities Safety and Maintenance Act. The funds generated from the tax help BUSD avoid dipping into general funds to pay for minor renovations and new classroom facilities.

Measure I authorized the school district to take out a $210 million bond to complete seismic retrofits and construction projects, as well as to help construct a new gym building with extra classroom space at Berkeley High School.

Measures H and I, if passed, will seek to cover increased operational costs in the district according to Calise, who led one of the evening’s breakout sessions where attendees discussed the maintenance measures.

He said in recent years, the district has successfully cut back on costs. He said in the long run, BUSD will look to reduce operational costs through the use of solar power and sustainable technologies.

“One of the important goals of tonight is to listen in on conversations,” Calise said. “And to solicit feedback from the community on how this could and should work.”

BUSD teachers, parents and community members were among those in attendance at the meeting and breakout sessions Thursday. Berkeley Arts Magnet School parents and sisters Sarah and Liz Jackson brought along signs supporting teachers’ increased wages.

“As a parent, it doesn’t feel good to have seasoned teachers talk to you about how they are working multiple jobs to feed their families and pay the rent,” Sarah Jackson said.

The 2020 proposed educator recruitment and retention parcel tax, if passed, would address this issue. The large majority of revenue generated from the tax would be applied to compensation for BUSD staff, and a small portion would be set aside to create a program to fill positions hard to staff, according to Stephens.

The town hall served as a chance for BUSD administrators to solicit community feedback on the tax before it is read to the BUSD school board Nov. 6 and then again Nov. 20 of this year.

Rachel Barber is a news reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.