BUSD Board Returns To New School Year By J DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday August 23, 2005

After a year that saw a months-long teacher contract protest, budget uncertainty, and construction disputes, the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education returns this week from an August recess. 

The first meeting of the new school year will be held Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., at the Old City Hall at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

The board will hear a presentation by WLC Architects and Vallier Design on a construction plan for the district’s Derby Street-area school properties that includes a proposed closure of Derby Street between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Milvia Street. 

The East Campus Project—encompassing both the old East Campus buildings and a portion of the property occupied by the Berkeley Alternative High School across Derby Street—set up one of the major battles of last school year. 

Proponents of a regulation-size Berkeley High School baseball field want to use the site for a field, the only available district-owned property large enough. The only way to build such a field on the two properties would be to close Derby Street. 

Neighborhood residents objected. They said they did not want the baseball field in their neighborhood and wanted Derby Street to remain open. 

Meanwhile, the district moved forward this summer with the demolition of the old East Campus buildings. 

One 2004-05 issue that district officials hope will not return this year is the district’s labor problems. Those problems were highlighted by a contract dispute with the district’s teachers, including a “work-to-rule” action in which they refused to work past their contracted eight-hour days. Berkeley teachers had been working without a new contract for two years. 

The district was also held contract talks with its bus drivers, custodians, instructional assistants, office workers, administrators, managers and supervisors. Those disputes were almost all settled in May, when tentative contract agreements were reached with all but the administrative workers. 

Budget matters also dominated the 2004-05 district board meetings and promise to continue this year. The district spent much of the year on “qualified” budget status, meaning that while the present budget was balanced, the district could not present balanced budgets for the following years. Public school districts must present balanced budgets or face severe sanctions, including possible takeover by the state. 

District officials blamed much of the budget problems on decreased funding from the state.?