School Board to Discuss Blistering Report

School Board to Discuss Blistering Report
Tuesday August 12, 2003

The Board of Education will discuss a blistering, 740-page state report on the Berkeley schools Wednesday night. 

The report, prepared by the state’s Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) found shortcomings with everything from school safety, to payroll administration to the district’s special education program. 

Problems range from uncertified fire extinguishers, to payroll failures to a lack of adequate teacher training on special education. 

“For a community that prides itself on inclusion and diversity and calls itself progressive, it’s hard even to come up with a scathing enough adjective for Berkeley’s public school record on students with disabilities,” said Julia Epstein, communications director for the Berkeley-based Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, in a statement last week. 

The FCMAT study was funded through a September 2002 bill, authored by former State Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley), that forgave a $1.1 million fine the school district owed the state for filing late paperwork in 2000, and poured $700,000 of it into the FCMAT report. The bill requires the district to spend the remaining $460,000 to implement the study’s recommendations over the next two years. 

FCMAT’s study included findings in five areas: community relations, personnel management, pupil achievement, financial management and facilities management. 

FCMAT began work with the district in October 2001, coming on board as a financial adviser one month after the Alameda County Office of Education disapproved Berkeley Unified’s faulty 2001-2002 budget.  

A year later, Aroner’s bill gave FCMAT the broader responsibility of conducting the wide-ranging study it issued last month. FCMAT officials, who worked with four subcontractors to complete the report, will be on hand at the Wednesday night meeting to discuss their findings and expectations for change over the next two years. 

The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

—David Scharfenberg