Berkeley school district may face $6.6M in budget cuts

Photo of Willard Middle School
Sam Tilles/Staff
The Berkeley Unified School District may face budget cuts due to declining enrollment, a pattern emerging across the state.

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Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, may face up to $6.6 million in budget cuts next year due to declining enrollment, pending an anticipated increase in state funding.

BUSD has seen a decrease of 600 out of 9,800 students over the course of the past two years, according to Superintendent Brent Stephens at the Nov. 16 Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee meeting.

Berkeley Federation of Teachers President Matt Meyer said annual funding for school districts is determined by a formula that factors in enrollment and attendance. He added that for the past two years, the state did not penalize districts with declining enrollment due to the pandemic in a “hold harmless” agreement.

“That ‘hold harmless’ is off for next year, which means that the district has to account for basically an accumulation of three years of declining enrollment,” Meyer said.

Michelle Smith McDonald, a spokesperson for the Alameda County Office of Education, said all 18 K-12 districts in Alameda County are experiencing declining enrollment at an average of 2.8%, meaning that 2.8% of students, on average, are not reenrolling. Smith McDonald added that this is a trend across the state, with the statewide average declining enrollment rate at about 3%.

BUSD’s loss of 600 students corresponds to a 6% drop in enrollment, according to Stephens.

“Berkeley Unified is experiencing declining enrollment,” Smith McDonald said. “Some of it may be pandemic-related, some of it may predate the pandemic, but most of our districts in Alameda County are experiencing declining enrollment right now.”

While Meyer said the increased availability of vaccines may allow some students to return to in-person schooling, he noted the district will not see 600 students return.

In addition to declining enrollment, districts also face the loss of pandemic funding from both state and federal governments, according to Smith McDonald. She said many districts used these one-time funds to start programs, add staff and respond to the pandemic.

“There’s been a lot of increased spending on serving our students and all the different needs that they have,” Meyer said. “It’s this really awful combination … a structural deficit of $6.5 million, on top of the loss of the one-time money. So this will impact classrooms.”

Meyer added that budget-cutting methods such as increasing class sizes, reducing support staff and decreasing funding for family engagement services can impact at-risk students the most.

However, Smith McDonald said a potential increase in state education funding could prevent major losses. Next January, California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s education budget proposal is expected to increase base funding for each district, which means that BUSD might not have to make the budget cuts.

“A month from now, after the governor announces the budget outlook for the state and any increases he might make to funding, the picture may look different,” Smith McDonald said.

Contact Amy Zeng at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @amyzengg.