Berkeley school district board discusses equity, racial disparity at meeting

Ben Klein/Staff

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The Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, saw a lively turnout at its regular meeting Wednesday, where it discussed Berkeley High School’s Bridge program, Thousand Oaks Elementary School, new board positions, funding and equity.

About 70 community members packed into the BUSD meeting chambers to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Berkeley High School’s Bridge program, a program directed at helping students — especially Black and Latinx students — transition from middle school to high school.

“I am extremely proud of the 10 years of the Bridge program,” said board member Julie Sinai. “It is really one of the highlights for the 2020 Vision for Berkeley youth.”

Many community members vocalized their support for the program, which Bridges founder and coordinator Jessie Luxford said “has helped narrow the racialized gaps” in education and assisted in students’ acceptance into four-year programs.

The racialized gaps in academic achievement have been stark in the district — BUSD superintendent Brent Stephens and assistant superintendent Pauline Follansbee reported that in the district, 21.6% of Black students show chronic absenteeism, in comparison with 10.6% of Latinx students and 5.6% of white students. BUSD’s racial disparities in absenteeism are wider than the state at large, which has higher percentages of white student absenteeism (9.7%), but 1.5% less Black student absenteeism.

There is also a disparity between schools in the district. According to Stephens and Follansbee, one school had a rate of about 38% of Black students meeting or exceeding standards for math and English, while another school had 25% for math and 14.28% for English.

After a brief snapshot of Thousand Oaks Elementary School, the board moved on to their new appointments for president, vice president and clerk.

Former BUSD president Beatriz Leyva-Cutler stepped down and Judy Appel took her place as president of the board. Ty Alper remained vice president and Ka’Dijah Brown stepped up as clerk. The new appointments were approved unanimously by the board.

Stephens and Follansbee then provided an overview of a tentative budget for the district in the coming years.

The budget accounted for a 2.5% increase in wages and benefits but did not provide for any wage increase, save for a cost of living adjustment, in 2021-22. This projection, however, did not account for any possible income from the new tax measures proposed for the 2020 ballot in Berkeley.

By discussing the recurring theme of equity and issues of racial disparity, the district hopes to end these issues with efforts such as the 2020 Vision, a collaborative program between BUSD, UC Berkeley, the city of Berkeley and Berkeley City College.

The 2020 Vision has around 60 programs associated with it, including trauma-informed care, preschool attendance programs, kindergarten readiness programs and a math board games pilot for summer school students.

“We are not serving our African American students,” Sinai said. “We need to acknowledge that it isn’t working — it’s working for our white kids, but it’s not working for other kids.”

Ben Klein is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BenKlein_dc‏.