The Board of Education tangled with activists over the multi-million dollar maintenance budget and tabled a change in the hiring process for principals at its Wednesday night meeting.
Members of the maintenance advisory committee, a citizen group that advises the board, presented a draft of their annual report and argued that the district has made little progress despite a substantial increase in maintenance expenditures this year.
“It’s very frustrating for the employees and the faculty and staff of the schools,” said Stephanie Allan, a committee member.
Committee figures suggest a $2 million increase in maintenance expenditures this year, but district officials said they have not verified that figure.
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Committee chair Yolanda Huang said the district has failed to provide proper training and support for custodians, and is months behind schedule in hiring new skilled trades staff. She said hiring delays could threaten the district’s summer maintenance plan.
“I think we can all agree that things aren’t moving as rapidly as we would like,” replied board member Ted Schultz. “(But) we are making progress in hiring.”
Lew Jones, manager of facilities planning, said the process for hiring public employees is unavoidably slow but that he expects new tradesmen to be in place by June or July.
Huang also charged that the district is underutilizing its system for processing work orders.
“We need to make that system work a lot better,” Jones acknowledged. He said two new office staff members should be on board by June, allowing for better use of the system.
Jones added that the district has made significant progress in several areas this year – purchasing six new vehicles, going out to bid on largescale playground repairs and launching quarterly inspections of fire alarms and sprinkler systems.
Jones said those inspections are required by law and that the district, long out of compliance, is now up to snuff.
Huang and the maintenance committee have long clashed with the board, and board President Shirley Issel castigated the committee for the tone of the Wednesday presentation.
“I continue to be distressed by the kind of adversarial approach that the maintenance advisory committee is taking with the board,” she said.
Issel, joined by board members Joaquin Rivera and John Selawsky, said the committee should have presented the board with recommendations, not just criticism.
Huang replied that the committee has repeatedly made recommendations, only to be ignored by the board.
Principal hiring process
The district faces principal vacancies at Berkeley High School, Longfellow Middle School and Rosa Parks Elementary School next year.
Associate Superintendent for Instruction Chris Lim, filling in for Superintendent Michele Lawrence, asked the board to approve a waiver on its current policy for hiring principals Wednesday night.
Under Lawrence’s proposal, there would be three screening committees, rather than one. The first committee, composed of staff and community members, would screen resumes and referrals. The second committee, composed mostly of staff, would review candidates’ knowledge of budgeting and educational theory. The final committee, composed mostly of community members, would analyze applicants’ people skills and community involvement.
Each committee would score the job seekers. The superintendent would interview the top candidates and make recommendations to the board.
Board members tabled the proposal Wednesday because it lacked specifics about the number of teachers, community members and district staff on the committees.
“As a board member, it is my responsibility that whenever I approve something I know the details,” said Rivera.
Lawrence, in a Thursday interview, said she would “resist” naming specific numbers of community or staff members, arguing that flexibility is important to account for absences and illnesses.
Lawrence was absent Wednesday night because she was in Sacramento lobbying for legislation authored by Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, that would forgive a $1.1 million fine the district owes the state and pour the money into consulting services for the Berkeley schools.
The bill, which would support reform in five areas – pupil achievement, fiscal management, facilities management, personnel management, and governance – sailed through the Assembly’s education committee on a unanimous vote and will appear before the appropriations committee in two weeks.
The Assembly must vote on the bill by May 31. The state Senate will then have June, July and August to consider and vote on the legislation.