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Aroner seeks $1.1 million for schools for school district

Saturday April 20, 2002

By David Scharfenberg 

Daily Planet staff 


State Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, is working on legislation that would forgive a $1.16 million fine the Berkeley Unified School District owes the state for filing a staff development form late, and pour the funds into auditing services and reform efforts. 

Under the Aroner plan, $700,000 would go to a state agency called the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team, or FCMAT, to support reform in five areas – pupil achievement, fiscal management, facilities management, personnel management, and governance. 

The balance – roughly $460,000 – would be used by the district to implement reforms proposed by the state agency. 

FCMAT is already providing financial advice for the district, which faces a $5.4 million deficit next year. Under the Aroner plan, the agency would remain in place next year, develop an improvement plan by July 1, 2003, and file periodic status reports on district implementation through June 2005. 

The district began making fine payments last year, and Aroner has attempted twice to win forgiveness, only to run into opposition from the Davis administration.  

Aroner says the new bill, drafted largely by FCMAT and negotiated with Davis’ Department of Finance, has a much better chance of passage. 

The legislation, which will be heard by the Assembly’s Education Committee Wednesday, also includes forgiveness of a $790,000 fine the Emery Unified School District owes the state for failing to properly document the certification of two teachers. 

“It’s good news,” said Jerry Kurr, Berkeley Unified School District’s associate superintendent of business, describing the bill and its apparently strong prospects for passage. 

Kurr said the district, which has already shelled out $580,000 in fine payments, was originally hoping to win forgiveness of the remaining $580,000, not the full amount. Now, he said, the district will realize a benefit on the full $1.16 million. 

Members of the Board of Education and community activists were generally pleased with the proposed legislation. 

“It’s an exciting development,” said school board President Shirley Issel. “I’m really pleased.” 

“We would rather have had the money with no strings attached, but this will make us spend some money where we need to spend it,” added Nancy Riddle, a parent who serves on the district’s budget advisory committee. 

Carol Wilkins, who also serves on the budget advisory committee, said the bill appeared to be “a constructive attempt to respond to the district’s current circumstances.” 

However, Wilkins said she has some concerns that a full $700,000 would go to FCMAT, and only $460,000 to the district for reform. 

“Why so much for them and not as much for us?” she asked. 

Wilkins added that, while she has been pleased with FCMAT’s work in district thus far, she has concerns about a lengthy stay. She said it is important that Berkeley decision-makers, guided by Berkeley values, direct district policy in the long term. 

“Is this someone else making decisions for us?,” she wondered. 

Wilkins said ultimately, despite her concerns, she believes local control will remain in place. 

The legislation calls for the following specific improvements, among others:  

•better accounting and internal control procedures 

•improved building maintenance 

•training for school board members  

•skills development for staff  

•a community relations plan