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Taxpayers to fund half a million in BHS programs

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Saturday June 22, 2002

Next year, Berkeley taxpayers will fund a drummer, an African/Haitian dance class, a video production program and extra science labs at Berkeley High School. 

But Berkeley residents will not pay for the Check & Connect program aimed at truants or the Berkeley Experiential Senior Transition program, better known as BEST, which allows second-semester seniors to pursue independent projects. Proponents of these programs say the students will lose out. 

The Board of Education made the funding decisions last week, when it approved $446,000 in Berkeley High enrichment funding derived from the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project, or BSEP.  

BSEP is a special tax originally approved by voters in 1986 that generates over $9 million annually for class size reduction, maintenance and programming in the public schools. By law, 20 percent of BSEP revenues pay for enrichment programs at the district’s school sites.  

Each site forms a committee which develops an annual plan, subject to board approval. 

The Berkeley High BSEP Site Committee was composed of 15 parents, staff and students. Committee chairman Dan Fingerman said the group focused on literacy and mathematics this year at the recommendation of the high school and district administration, spending about $100,000 in these areas. 

Some of the major allocations, he said, included over $43,000 for the widely-respected Writer’s Room program, which provides students with writing tutors, and $15,000 for freshman algebra tutors. 

Fingerman said the group works to ensure that every student is directly touched by a BSEP grant, since the money is provided by taxpayers all across the city. 

“Something that I’ve always felt is essential is to broaden our focus,” said Fingerman, who will step down next fall after six years as chairman of the high school’s BSEP committee. “I think we’ve done that this year.” 

Fingerman said the committee, which met 13 times, fielded 44 proposals totaling nearly $1 million and had to make some difficult decisions about what to fund. 

“That’s absolutely the hardest piece,” he said. “There are things that cannot be funded.” 

But critics take issue with some of the committee’s choices. 

Check & Connect advocates say the program, which seeks to pull truant students back into school by monitoring their attendance, counseling them and working with parents, serves some of the most at-risk students at Berkeley High. 

Irma Parker, who heads the Parent Resource Center at Berkeley High and has worked closely with the Check & Connect program, said coordinator Earl Bill did valuable work this year. 

But Fingerman said the program, in its inaugural year, had its failings. 

“I think there was a consensus that the program was not as effective as it could have been,” he said, arguing that other initiatives focused on at-risk students provided more “bang for the buck.” 

Advocates say the program never had a chance to fully succeed because the district was unable to hire a director of mentoring to complement Bill. The director was to develop a group of adult mentors to follow-up with the truants. 

“I object strongly to the statement that (the program) wasn’t effective when it wasn’t (fully) implemented,” said BHS school psychologist Leon Cooper, who helped bring the program, developed at the University of Minnesota, into the school. 

Fingerman said the reasons for the program’s shortcomings “are not BSEP issues,” and that the committee, faced with a slew of proposals, had to make the best decisions it could. 

Frank Schooley, a parent volunteer with the BEST program, said the BSEP committee unfairly relied on the opinions of student committee members who never participated in the program. 

But Fingerman, whose son participated in BEST, said several members of the committee had significant experience with the program and made a decision based on the program’s merits. 

“Some students do wonderful, creative things, some do less wonderful, creative things,” he said, describing the program. 

Schooley said the high school will be losing a valuable program. 

“It allows the students to engage in learning something they’re really interested in, rather than take one more class they don’t want to take,” he said, noting that many students are “burned out” on traditional classroom learning by the end of senior year. 

School board member Terry Doran said he was sad to see the Check & Connect and BEST programs go, but felt the committee had done its job thoroughly. 

Fingerman said the committee will reconvene in the fall and consider allocating an additional $75,000 in “carry-over” funds that remain from the group’s share of BSEP funds. BEST is not currently on the priority list for carry-over money, he said, but the committee could still decide to fund the program. He said carry-over funding for Check & Connect is unlikely. 


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