The school board has bristled at receiving a “report card.” However, report cards are important tools to help us assess how well students and the school district are doing. Unfortunately for the students and community, the California’s Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team, (FCMAT) gave the school board and district administration failing marks in major areas of responsibility, including maintenance.
FCMAT has developed standards for school districts which cover five major areas: community relations, personnel management, student achievement, financial management, and facilities management. Grades are given on a scale of 0 to 10.
Our community’s primary concern is safety. In the Year 2000, we passed Measure BB, the $4 million parcel tax for maintenance to make our schools safe and in good repair. Broken facilities lead to injuries. Of the 27 criteria for safety, only 4 standards received a passing grade of 7 or above. Twenty standards received 4 or below—clearly failing. What is troubling about this is that the problems identified in FCMAT were cited by the fire marshall and the district’s consultants reports in 1999. These include electrical panels without doors, missing exit signs, fire hazards, and violations of toxic and flammable materials and chemical standards. Despite adequate funding, BUSD has not hired the recommended key personnel to maintain the fire alarm system. BUSD needs to fix all safety problems now and report back in January. Have the fire marshall reinspect all schools so staff and students are safe.
Maintain New Construction
All new construction must be maintained. This was the guiding principle of the citizens’ Maintenance Advisory Committee (MAC). When MAC was first formed, we were appalled at how taxpayers’ money was wasted. Boilers, which were to last 25 years, lasted less than five because they were not maintained. Water leaks in new schools were not repaired and became $20,000 bills for dry rot. MAC told the Board that BUSD had to maintain our community’s $250 million dollar investment in new school construction. Yet, even on the simple issue of maintaining boilers, FCMAT gave BUSD a 3 out of 10—a failing grade. BUSD lacks a planned maintenance program. FCMAT said a planned maintenance program begins with school board leadership. BUSD needs a policy, a developed budget and timelines, articulated priorities, and a separate financial account. None of this is in place.
All schools should have beautiful grounds. For the 65 percent of Berkeley without children in our schools, the grounds are what affects them. FCMAT said our school grounds do not look good. The current staffing for the grounds crew matches the staffing recommended by the district’s consultants. The problem is the need for improved organization, scheduling and deployment of the staff to produce greater effectiveness. Skilled administrators play an important role.
Our community sustains five major garden nurseries, a world class botanical garden, and a renowned rose garden. Most Berkeleyans agree that the standards applied by BUSD’s Maintenance Department are lower than our community’s standards. BUSD, please understand:
a) You must respect the work of parents and community in our school gardens.
b) Bare dirt is not a landscape design goal.
c) Garden tools used should not only be chain saws, weed whackers and mowers.
d) Trees, especially Coast Live Oak, should not be pruned into lollipops.
FCMAT points out what we all know: some schools are clean and some are not. Principals are supposed to focus on students and learning, not on the cleaning of 25 classrooms and 12 bathrooms every day, not on chemical usage, not on maintenance and repairs. Principals are not even at school in the evenings, when most of the cleaning takes place. Custodians are the first line of defense in maintenance because clean facilities, with routine minor maintenance, work better and last longer. A custodial supervisor was hired pursuant to the citizens’ recommendations. But then the custodial supervisor and custodians were pink slipped. Principals are supervising custodians, and we are back to unclean schools. If BUSD can’t adequately keep the existing school facilities clean now, what will happen when the additional new building at Berkeley High School opens? BUSD needs consistent progress and adherence to policies even with frequent change of administrators.
Long Range Facilities Master Plan
With the hundreds of millions spent on school facilities, FCMAT gave BUSD a zero—utter failure—for not having a long-range school facilities master plan. Projects are now designed on a piecemeal basis, which leads to expensive litigation, conflicts and mistakes. This reflects some of the concerns raised by the City of Berkeley and neighbors of the current Adult and Franklin schools. BUSD must gauge what is the best use of public funds and public facilities and that requires a long-range plan.
Audits and Accountability
The school board and superintendent have flagrantly refused and failed to comply with the terms of Measure BB itself. Measure BB calls for an annual independent audit to ensure that all Measure BB funds are spent in compliance with the terms of the measure. BUSD is it its third year spending the funds and has not conducted an audit. As Ann Marie Hogan, the city’s auditor, states: A performance auditor’s function is to “speak truth to power.” Instead of circling the wagons around a fading campfire, the school board members need to adopt the FCMAT audit recommendations and fully comply with Measure BB’s audit requirements.
School Board Leadership
The lack of school board leadership was cited by FCMAT in over 33 standards. This has led to the unpleasant situation where the school board, instead of providing leadership and guidance, follows the lead of a superintendent. This results in a system without checks and balances.
Without the $13 million a year from BESP, the $4 million a year from Measure BB and without the over $250 million to rebuild and repair schools, Berkeley would be bankrupt, just like Oakland. Don’t waste our money. Do a good job.
Sally Reyes is a native Berkeleyan. Her two children attended Berkeley public schools. She was a staff member of the BUSD Maintenance Department from 1978 to 1994 and a citizen member of the Maintenance Advisory Committee from 2002-2002. She was not reappointed this year.
Copies of the FCMAT report are available from the Berkeley Public Library’s Central reference desk.