Schooling the ballots: Why Berkeley ballot measures relate to education

Nirvana Ellaboudy/Staff

Gearing up for Tuesday’s primaries, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters approved three measures to promote the welfare of local schools, making all city measures related to public education. 

Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, Board of Education filed the three approved measures — later dubbed Measures E, G and H — with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters on Dec. 5, 2019. Meanwhile, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, the city of Berkeley did not propose any measures for the March 3 ballot.

“E, G and H together will keep Berkeley on the right path,” Berkeley PTA Council President Rob Collier previously told The Daily Californian. “The extremely unlikely scenario of one or more of them losing would be catastrophic for the district and students.”

Although only five days lapsed between the measures’ proposal and lettering, the process of landing them on Tuesday’s ballot involved multiple steps, according to Natasha Beery, BUSD’s director of community relations and Berkeley Schools Excellence Program, or BSEP. 

Originally developed through staff work focused on the district’s budgets and needs, Measures E, G and H were drafted and presented to the school board at several public meetings. 

In addition to hearing tentative language for the measures, the school board also heard about the rationale for each measure and their various components. A series of public hearings were also held to discuss the measures, according to Beery. 

Eventually, the board adopted a resolution enabling it to add the measures to the March ballot. Before being passed along to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, both Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, BUSD Board of Education director, and Karen Monroe, superintendent of Alameda County schools, signed off on the measures. 

Once the measures were filed with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters using a ballot submission form, arguments expressing support and opposition for each measure were weighed. 

Through Measures E, G and H, BUSD looks to prevent local teachers from leaving the district because of insufficient wages. It also hopes the measures will enable the district to revamp infrastructure at some of its schools and better maintain the current campuses. 

Measure E — also referred to as the Berkeley Public Schools Educator Recruitment and Retention Act — is designed to keep Berkeley educators in the district despite BUSD’s lower rates of teacher compensation. With teachers earning lower than the average regional pay, many have had to leave the district in search of better-compensating jobs.

“My son’s favorite teacher had to leave King Middle School in Berkeley two years ago because he could not afford to live here,” Berkeley city auditor Jenny Wong previously told the Daily Cal in an email. “We need to prevent these types of situations from taking place by paying teachers a better wage.” 

In the past two years, BUSD has experienced budget cuts exceeding $3 million, therefore decreasing the money available to pay its teachers and staff members. The district’s special education staff alone has decreased by 25% because of these cuts. 

To channel increased funding into BUSD’s budget, Measure E would implement a property tax based on square footage. This alone would bolster BUSD’s funds by 7%, amounting to $186 annually per 1,500-square-foot home. 

Though a small percentage of the generated revenue would be allocated toward retention and recruitment in areas that are harder to staff, 95% would feed into BUSD employee salaries. 

Measure G — primarily aimed at keeping BUSD on track with its current projects to remodel and improve its campuses — would continue an existing bond program. According to Wong, this measure is particularly critical as it would promote the seismic safety of local public schools. 

“The previous two bonds have paid for the seismic upgrade of all student-occupied facilities in the District. Our schools will be among the safest buildings in the city when the next large earthquake hits,” Wong previously told the Daily Cal in the email. “Measure G continues with upgrades to make Berkeley schools seismically safe, sustainable and equipped with the latest educational technology.”

If passed, Measure H would renew a parcel tax originally passed in 2000 to ensure BUSD’s schools are properly maintained. 

In a similar vein to Measure E, the revenue for Measure H would also be generated from a tax based on square footage.

“It would be devastating to the District if Measure H did not succeed,” BUSD Board of Education Vice President Ty Alper previously told the Daily Cal in an email. “We would need to make drastic cuts to programs and services for students in order to pay for necessary maintenance to the school facilities.”

Contact Mallika Seshadri at mseshadri @dailycal.org .