Berkeley Unified School District leaders pledged this week that even though the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team has left the building, the district itself will continue the organization’s work.
In the meantime, the BUSD board approved the hiring of three safety officers to replace the Berkeley Police Department’s school resource officers who have been withdrawn from the district’s middle school for financial reasons.
Following a BUSD fiscal crisis in 2001, FCMAT spent three years setting financial and program goals for the district and publishing performance evaluations. The state-funded school intervention organization published its final BUSD report in July, praising the district for making “good progress over time,” but cautioning it to “remain vigilant to avoid fiscal insolvency.”
FCMAT rated the district in the areas of community relations and governance, personnel management, pupil achievement, financial management, and facilities management.
At Wednesday night’s BUSD board meeting, board directors and Superintendent Michele Lawrence said that evaluation of those areas should go forward, though now by the district itself, rather than by an outside agency.
“The value here is that we have the template which has been implemented for the past three years,” Director John Selawsky said. “We don’t have to invent it. Carrying this work forward enhances our efforts and adds to our credibility as a district.”
Selawsky said that the areas of pupil achievement and fiscal and personnel management should be the top priorities in a continued district evaluation program.
“It took a lot of hard work by people throughout the district to get us back to a stable, albeit fragile, financial situation,” said Board President Nancy Riddle.
The board directed Lawrence to add the FCMAT-developed performance evaluations to the district’s regular calendar of performance indicator reports.
But while directors and the superintendent expressed pleasure at the district’s reported progress under FCMAT’s goals, some also expressed reservations about using FCMAT ratings to judge BUSD’s standing in relation to other districts in the state.
With BUSD averaging a little over six points (out of 10) on the FCMAT scale, Director Joaquin Rivera said that “no one knows if a fully-functional district would be able to get tens all across the board.”
Noting that the “standards in this report are subjective to the individual evaluators that came to the district” and that different evaluators at other districts may have used other standards, Rivera said that “the real value of the report is how we made progress internally.”
Even those results came under some criticism, with Rivera pointing out that since FCMAT only looked over a different, selected list of district programs each time it issued an evaluation, “it is possible that progress was made in areas that FCMAT didn’t specifically look at in a given period, and therefore that progress wasn’t noted in the report for that period.”
And School Board Vice President Terry Doran said that while he was “glad that FCMAT was here,” he thought some of the organization’s criticisms were out of place for Berkeley.
Doran pointed out that the FCMAT report noted a “high level of special education [expenditure] encroachment [on the BUSD budget] compared with statewide averages” and that the district’s 12.75 percent special education population was also “above current state averages.” It was a situation FCMAT called “of concern to the review team.”
Doran said he saw that as a positive rather than a negative.
“This community has been known for years to attempt to provide a positive environment for students with special needs,” he said. “Many parents bring their special needs children to the district, just for that. I don’t want to discourage special needs students from coming here.”
Doran also took issue with FCMAT’s assessment that “the district will not be able to stop deficit spending [in its nutritional services fund] unless the food restrictions are eased to permit the high school to serve a wider variety of foods.”
“We pioneered the elimination of junk food, sodas, and sugary snacks while other districts balanced their budgets by serving crap,” Doran said. “There was no acknowledgment in the report that we provide more nutritious and better tasting food to students than almost any other district in the state.”
On the middle school safety officer issue, the board voted to hire three district safety officers using money that had been budgeted for administrative positions that have not been filled. The three city police officers assigned to the district’s middle schools since 1998 were withdrawn by the city because the grant that funded the officers ended.
Lawrence said the district did not learn of the city’s decision until after this year’s budget was passed.
Wednesday’s meeting was the first for newly rehired fiscal manager Eric Smith, who replaced the outgoing Glenston Thompson. Thompson had replaced Smith a year ago after Smith left the district for personal reasons.
Berkeley High School senior Teal Miller was also sworn in as the board’s new student director, replacing Lily Dorman-Thomas, who graduated from Berkeley High School in June.›