Berkeley School Board Candidate Statements, Merrilie Mitchell

Tuesday October 19, 2004

I am running for this office because I believe there is too much politics on the Berkeley School Board. Examples include closing Franklin School and the former adult school, and turning school playgrounds into parking lots (at Franklin School and the Berkeley High tennis courts). The Berkeley Citizen Action (BCA) majority is beginning again the same old plan—closing schools to free up land for development—just as they did in 1984. That was disastrous, and it took years for our schools to begin to recover from it. 

We need serious change on the School Board—less politics, and more possibilities. But these changes are possible only if there is an independent voice. I am the only independent Democrat running for the Berkeley School Board.  

We should provide an excellent education for all our children, in schools where the students feel safe and welcome. Politics must be kept out of our schools. Our students need to learn the critical thinking skills necessary to make informed judgments including their own political opinions. 

We need to listen carefully to the concerns of our teachers and work to create a supportive educational setting. Class size is critical but has been creeping up into the 30s from middle school on up. This is too high for Berkeley Unified School District’s diverse student body. We will lose many of our best teachers, unless we get serious about class size. BUSD does not have to take in all the students it accepts from other school districts. We have a fixed amount of budget money to spend on our students so why allow transfers, which cause larger class size? At Berkeley High School’s “Back to School Night” I was amazed at the number of parents there from Oakland and Alameda!  

We should have quality after-school programs for all students who need them, with fees on a sliding scale. But there is not enough daycare for middle-income families and this forces many into private schools. This situation causes socio-economic and racial imbalances, which may create poorer schools for low-income children.  

The “2X2 Committee” (School Board plus City Council) has been initiating joint ventures, such as plans for massive real estate development or homeless shelters on our school properties. This committee should instead work to improve the quality of life in our school neighborhoods. This is especially important for South and West Berkeley, where conditions can be scary, stressful, or violent, and where polluted air causes asthma in youngsters. 

Our school sites are precious and irreplaceable. They should not be diminished, developed, or leased for other than school purposes. We can use underutilized classrooms for reducing class size, for after-school and tutoring programs, teacher centers, flex space, pregnant minor programs, adult education, senior and exercise programs, and so forth. We should preserve all current school recreational areas for students. We do not have excess open space in our schools, and students need ample space for sports and recreation. School properties are a public trust issue. 

I support Measure B on the ballot, a two-year “bridge” measure mostly for reducing class size in grades four through 12. But this is another parcel tax, which will unfairly burden homeowners and businesses. In 2006, perhaps we can finance the next “Measure B” with a small tax on “think drinks” like coffee and lattés. I’m willing to go to Sacramento if necessary to change the law. Sadly, it appears to me that the school budget was balanced by increasing class size. If you agree, please vote YES on B for the kids, and NO on the School Board incumbents. 

Comprehensive High School and Academic Choice—YES! Excellent small schools like the Computer Academy and Independent Study—YES! Build bridges between the large and small schools by encouraging an open door policy for students and a part-time expert teacher exchange between programs. 

Schools/ city partnerships (Community Centers)—NO! Our schools have problems to solve and divisive politics to diffuse. The city would make both worse. 

I am an independent and not beholden to Berkeley's powerful political interests. Beware of the rumors and last minute attacks on me and on other independent candidates who dare to stand up against the political machine.  

I have lived in Berkeley for 35 years. I have a degree in Zoology, was capped as a nurse, and have been a public school teacher. I’m a mother, grandmother, environmentalist, whistleblower, and do-gooder.  

Please message me with your questions or concerns at 549-1840, or visit my web site at www.merriliemitchell.org 

P.S. While there has been some improvement, we must have zero tolerance for violence and bullying by Berkeley High students, both on campus and in the community. 

—Merrilie Mitchell