Laura Babitt, Ana Vasudeo projected to win seats on Berkeley school district board

Photo of Ana Vasudeo and Laura Babitt
From left to right: Ana Vasudeo, Laura Babitt

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Update 11/4/2020: This article has been updated to include statements from candidates.

Update 11/5/2020: This article has been updated to include statements from Esfandiar Imani.

Updated 11/05/20: This article has been updated to reflect Alameda County election results released as of 5 p.m. Nov. 5.

As votes continue to be counted, Laura Babitt and Ana Vasudeo are projected to win the two available seats on the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, board. The race has not yet been called.

Babitt, a parent, public school volunteer in Berkeley and financial auditor and controller, is leading with 33.65% of the vote, as of press time. 

Babitt ran on a platform of bettering remote learning, implementing more individualized support for students and creating restorative justice programming and education. 

Babitt said she was happy to see the race’s results reflect the community’s agreement with her platforms and goals. 

“I’m definitely honored Berkeley supported me with their vote,” Babitt said. “I’m ready to get to work. I’m excited.” 

Babitt added she looks forward to getting to be “proactive” in finding solutions to problems, instead of being “reactive” to the board’s decisions. She plans to implement “outcome-oriented” budgeting, outdoor classrooms and special education reform, among other goals. 

Vasudeo, a mother, the district-level PTA vice president of equity and inclusion and senior transportation planner of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, has 32.74% of the vote as of press time.

Vasudeo’s campaign emphasized her passions for restorative justice programs, closing achievement gaps and valuing teachers’ perspectives in district issues. Vasudeo also hopes to facilitate collaboration between Berkeley and the district to help children get to school safely through sustainable transport.  

“I feel very honored and humbled that Berkeley voters chose two moms of color to serve our schools,” Vasudeo said in an email. “I’m looking forward to authentic culturally responsive engagement and continuing to improve the ways that we authentically engage with vulnerable families who are struggling with distance learning.” 

Vasudeo added that, moving forward, she hopes to work closely with Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and the City Council to find ways to safely reopen schools. 

The losing candidates in the race were Mike Chang, José Luis Bedolla, Esfandiar Imani and Norma J F Harrison, who as of press time have 19.55%, 5.82%, 4.34% and 3.83% of the vote, respectively. Write-in votes accounted for 0.09% of votes cast for the board. 

Chang, currently a lawyer, BUSD parent and ethnic studies lecturer at UC Berkeley, ran on a platform of increasing equity in education, raising wages of Berkeley teachers and staff to professional levels and advocating restorative justice and allyship. 

Chang plans to run again in 2022, he said. 

As I said a number of times during the campaign, it was incredible that there was such a diverse range of candidates,” Chang said. “I really want to thank all the voters out there who, really, within a short period of time — about three months — supported us.” 

Bedolla, a technology executive and local philanthropist, hoped to make BUSD schools internationally competitive and wanted to advocate for the schools to receive increased funding. His platform was based on the three key tenants of rigor, equity and adopting technology to decrease inequities. 

Bedolla also is considering running in 2022 and reflected that he would start campaigning earlier than he did this election cycle. 

“It was a strange election because of COVID. My campaign was not able to do the things we wanted to,” Bedolla said. “For not having any endorsements we got a good chunk of the electorate, so I’m happy about that.” 

Imani, a Berkeley resident, risk management consultant and member of BUSD’s Planning and Oversight Committee and the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program, previously said to The Daily Californian that he prioritizes issues of opportunity differences between students and combatting sexual harassment in schools.

Imani added that he hoped to increase communication between schools and families about home challenges to keep them academically involved.

“My campaign has come to an end, but my care and support for public education will continue stronger than ever,” Imani said in a message to his supporters. “I will continue to work towards a school system that is safe, welcoming, fair, and just for all its stakeholders, in particular, the students, the teachers, and their respective families.”

Harrison, Berkeley activist and community volunteer, ran on a campaign of interconnecting subjects in school and executing online school more smoothly. Harrison, who previously described classroom environments in Berkeley as “annoying, frightening and off-putting,” said the education system fails to allow learning in other areas of life. 

Harrison said she continues to campaign for the board because the issues in the schooling system remain the same. 

She added that the school system is “controlling” to make sure people have workers to keep them rich and said she seeks to build a government that provides for its people.

Check back for updates.

Sebastian Cahill is a deputy news editor. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.