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School Board slashes district’s budget

By Ben Lumpkin Daily Planet staff
Friday May 18, 2001

Despite grave concerns of two of its members, the Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to make more than $4 million in cuts to balance its budget of about $65 million by June. 

“This has not been an easy decision,” said Board President Terry Doran.  

While he acknowledged the board’s decision last year to make higher pay for teachers a top priority contributed to the need for cuts this spring, Doran placed most of the blame squarely on Sacramento and what he called the state government’s failure to support public education “in an adequate way.” 

Board members Joaquin Rivera and Ted Schultz reiterated their objections to a piece of the plan that will cut the high school teaching staff by the equivalent of 3.6 full-time teachers next year. 

“This is going to add to our lack of credibility because of the support for (small) class size in the community,” Rivera said in an interview Thursday, referring to the fact that Berkeley taxpayers have repeatedly voted to tax themselves in order to keep K-12 class sizes small. 

Director John Selawsky said in an interview that he felt comfortable voting  

for the high school cuts because  

Berkeley High Principal Frank Lynch had indicated that the loss of teachers would not significantly impact class size at the 3,200-student school. 

Doran said the cuts amount to less than 2 percent of the total funding for teaching staff at the high school, a relatively modest cut given “the grave financial situation we’re in right now.” 

Carol Wilkins, a Berkeley High parent and a member of a budget advisory committee for the school district, said during the public comment period Wednesday that she was “deeply disturbed about the action this board has decided to take.” 

“The trust of the voters is one of the most precious commodities that this board has to rely on,” Wilkins said. A vote for fewer teachers at the high school two years in a row jeopardizes that trust, Wilkins added, pointing to the fact that some remedial classes at the high school already have 38 students apiece. 

The class-size reduction tax measure approved by Berkeley voters originally called for classes in grades seven through 12 to have no more than 27 students. 

The cuts approved Wednesday include: the elimination of two middle school safety officers; the elimination of the plant operations manager, attendance clerk and on-campus suspension manager at Berkeley High; the elimination of a half-time campus monitor at the alternative high school; and numerous cuts in administrative costs, ranging from legal expenses to travel expenses. 

The board is now creating a priority list of where to put money back into the budget next year should the district end up with more spending money than it anticipates. Rivera and Selawsky said they would reinstate the teaching positions cut from the high school first, should funding become available. Selawsky said Thursday that a decision to go ahead and fund these positions can still be made as late as September. The cut school safety officers could be added back at any time during the coming school year, he said. 


In other school board news Wednesday, several parents accused the high school of discriminating against Chicano and Latino students by relegating them to an English Language Learner program whose allegedly inferior curriculum they said fails to prepare students for college. 

“There is unequal treatment but, more important, there is the perception of unequal treatment,” said Berkeley High parent Frederico Chavez. 

Chavez described a situation where the parent of a student who was part Puerto Rican had to fight to get her son into an algebra course that is part of the required curriculum for students who want to be eligible for the University of California system. 

“These are the kinds of things Berkeley High is doing to Latino students,” Chavez said. “It doesn’t challenge them.” 

Several board members directed Interim Superintendent Stephen Goldstone to look into the situation. Rivera said Thursday he wants to review the procedure for placing students in the ELL program, which is intended for students with limited English.