School Board Moves Toward November Ballot Tax Measure

Friday June 04, 2004

The Berkeley School Board unanimously approved the first reading of an $8.3 million tax measure for the November ballot that, if passed by voters, would cost the average homeowner $184 per year in extra taxes. 

The two-year tax—designed to complement the district’s $10 million Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP)— would pay for lower class sizes, more librarians, additional music instruction, teacher training, statistical analysis and parent outreach. 

A second board vote on the proposal is expected in two weeks after a public hearing. 

Board members have argued that state funding cuts and inflation have forced the district to cut back on class size, music, and library initiatives that BSEP was designed to cover. A two-year supplemental tax, they concluded, could give relief to students while the district begins an 18-month strategic planning process before bringing a new long-term BSEP measure to voters in 2006. 

Sixty-eight percent of all funding provided by the proposed tax increase would go to reduce class sizes. Teacher student targets would be 20:1 for kindergarten through third grade, 26:1 for grades four and five, and 28:1 for grades six through 12.  

The board nixed a proposal from Director Terry Doran to restore a state subsidized program to establish 20:1 ratios in ninth grade English and Social Science classes. The district withdrew from the state program this year because it couldn’t afford its share. Doran argued that by reapplying for the state subsidy, the district would get more value for the added teaching positions. 

Superintendent Michele Lawrence said the tax proposal included enough new teacher positions to satisfy Doran’s request, but that Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp indicated he favored using the new positions to provide advisors for ninth graders instead of reducing class size. 

Libraries would receive 16 percent of the new funding. In recent years, most schools have not had money for licensed librarians and instead staffed their libraries with library media teachers, whose hours have been repeatedly cut. 

Seven percent of the tax dollars would go to the music program to restore instrument instruction in the fourth grade and five days a week of band practice in the middle schools. 

At the urging of Superintendent Lawrence, seven percent of the proceeds will go to teacher training and program evaluation and two percent will go to parent outreach. 

A survey of 600 likely Berkeley voters conducted last month by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research showed that nearly three out of four voters would support the tax measure—far greater than the two-thirds majority needed to pass.