Berkeley School Board Roundup By YOLANDA HUANG Special to the Planet

Friday January 13, 2006

The Berkeley School Board held its first meeting of the new year Wednesday and approved, without discussion, payment of $64,000 in legal fees; up to $74,000 to two different firms for inspection services during King Middle School’s dining commons construction; and payment to the Berkeley YMCA so that special needs students can use the Y’s shallow pool for swimming instead of the district’s warm pool. 

Superintendent Michelle Lawrence stated last month that she did not consider the district’s warm pool safe for use by students. The district will pay the YMCA $2,800 for 32 hours of pool use over the year. 


Professional development 

The board also received the third of a series of reports from the superintendent’s education priorities workgroup on professional development. Neil Smith, the director of educational services and the chair, presented the report. 

The workgroup concluded that no matter what the education program, the key to academic success in all programs, is “teacher quality,” Smith said. 

All board members endorsed the need for quality professional development, but the report contained no specific recommendations other than the need for professional development to be considered a fundamental component and a requirement for all teachers. 

Superintendent Lawrence cautioned that any district-wide program is “complicated and complex to implement” because of the limitations of the number of hours in a school day and the limited number of school days in a year. 

Lawrence indicated that in order for teachers to have time for professional development, a substitute had to take over the classroom, and so there was a need for the teacher to prepare lessons and for substitute training.  

Boardmember Shirley Issel raised the issue of whether the district needed to work with the union to “reconsider the professional workday.” 


Budget calendar 

The board also voted on the timetable in which to prepare the district budget. 

Board President Terry Doran suggested a board resolution that any budget balancing measures not be done through lay-offs. However, Superintendent Lawrence said that while she didn’t anticipate layoffs, she recommended against such a resolution because 87 percent of the district’s budget was salaries and the school district did not have adequate reserves in case of a budget shortfall. 

If the budget did result in a shortfall, the board would be required by the tax measures to declare an emergency in order to take actions such as raising class sizes accompanied by layoffs in order to balance the budget, she said. 

Issel expressed exasperation over the fact that, while the current budget was solvent, the board might still have to consider making a declaration of emergency. 

Boardmember Nancy Riddle said that she thought the most important function for the board was to compare the future budget projections with the actual numbers. In the end, the board approved the budget calendar as presented by the staff. 


Enrollment and discounted meals 

Other reports to the board showed that overall enrollment in the elementary and middle schools has dropped, but enrollment at the high school increased by 300 students so that the total district enrollment is higher. Unfortunately, slightly fewer students are attending school this year compared to last year, which will result in the district receiving less funding from the state. State funding is based upon attendance. 

The number of low-income students measured by the number of students who qualify for the free or reduced-price meals at some of the schools has also increased dramatically, notably at Emerson Elementary School, which increased from 46 percent to 52 percent, Willard Middle School which increased from 45.3 percent to 59.6 percent, and LeConte Elementary School, which increased from 56 percent to 62 percent. 

Boardmember John Selawsky noted that perhaps these increases are due to a more vigorous effort by these schools to sign up students for these programs, but that these numbers should be monitored. Schools with higher numbers of low income students, in addition to the meal programs, are eligible for other state and federal grants.