Interim Report Says School Budget is Back on Track By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday December 17, 2004

The board of directors of the Berkeley Unified School District received a guardedly optimistic first interim budget report at this week’s board meeting, showing that the assumptions in the district’s 2004-05 budget are on track. 

That budget, which projected unrestricted general fund revenues at $46.9 million, expenditures at $46.1 million, and an operating surplus of $743,000, was approved three months ago by the Alameda County Office of Education. 

And that is without the inclusion of recently-passed Berkeley School Measure B, whose funds will not begin kicking in for another year. 

This week’s meeting was the board’s last before the holiday break. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 12. 

Recently re-elected directors Joaquin Rivera and John Selawsky, who were criticized by opponents for the district’s past fiscal difficulties during the election campaign, expressed pleasure at the updated budget report figures. Rivera welcomed the news. 

“It’s been so long since we’ve heard anything positive,” he said. 

But Selawsky noted that the district was “barely balanced.”  

“We are not flush,” he said. “We are going to be operating a bare bones budget for the next couple of years.” 

Director Shirley Issel added that “we’re still in a fiscal emergency. It’s survivable, but we’re still not in a strong position fiscally.” 

Even Berkeley school finances are in the black, Board President Nancy Riddle said a continued declaration of fiscal emergency is necessary “because the general fund cannot meet our fiscal responsibilities on its own.” 

District staff representatives said that added state average daily attendance revenue from a 300-student enrollment increase since the budget was approved in July were offset by related costs, including the hiring of new teachers. 

Director of Physical Services Song Chin-Bendib said that the district will still have to borrow money this fall in order to meet expenses until tax revenue comes in next January. Chin-Bendib said this was not unusual, calling the fall “normally a difficult period.” 

In other action at this week’s meeting, the board: 

• Gave qualified approval to revised site plans for Willard Middle School and Berkeley Alternative High School. Rivera, Riddle, and student Director Lily Dorman-Colby all abstained on acceptance of the plan. Following the meeting, Rivera said that the submitted plans were “less than acceptable,” a criticism he had made of site plans submitted by other schools at previous board meetings. The site plans for student achievement are required by the California Department of Education. Site plans have now been approved by the board for all of BUSD’s schools. 

• Unanimously approved a plan to add lights to the east parking lot of the Franklin Adult School “contingent on the funding being available.” The lights have been proposed because of concerns about safety and vandalism at the adult school, which relocated to the Franklin Street site, and operates its parking lot until 10 p.m. Director Terry Doran noted that there was general approval of the lighting plan from residents in the surrounding neighborhood. 

• Accepted, for information purposes, reports on the West Campus and East Campus properties. 

In regards to the West Campus site, where the district is projecting to eventually move its administrative offices, board approval of a planner is scheduled for February of next year. Community meetings are planned for March and April. Superintendent Michele Lawrence said that she is in the process of forming a staff committee to begin internal planning, with a site committee “a little ways off.” Construction of the new administration building is scheduled to take place between July 2007 and July 2008, with a move from the district’s present Old City Hall offices projected for September of 2008. 

At the East Campus site, where the district wants to tear down existing buildings and build an athletic field, a demolition site committee has already been formed and met. An athletic field site committee meeting has been scheduled for January of next year.