School Board Weighs Impact of New Tax By Riya Bhattacharjee

Friday March 24, 2006

At the school board meeting on Wednesday, Paul Goodwin from Goodwin Simon Strategic Research presented board members and the public with the findings of the voter survey conducted to assess community support for reauthorizing the BSEP and Measure B of 2004 Special taxes which expire at the end of the 2006-07 school year. 

Director Nancy Riddle commended the fact that the ratings for Berkeley schools had gone up in this year’s report and added that this was a very positive sign for teachers in Berkeley. 

Goodwin added that Berkeley residents have been very supportive of these measures in earlier years and are very enthusiastic about them when they hear what these measures are going to be used for.  

Also on the agenda was Planning Assumptions for a Special Tax Measure under consideration to reauthorize Measure B of 1994 (BSEP) and Measure B of 2004. The board has asked for suggestions from the general public on how funds from these taxes can be used towards improvement of the Berkeley schools before they take any further decisions in June. “We are asking input from the public about how the money could be spent,’ said President Terry S. Doran. 

Vice President Joaquin Rivera said that he would like to see a funding model which would clearly state how much money was required for the projects that could not be funded under the current measures. The current increases in the parcel tax would result in a total increase of $19-20 million every year. 

Public Hearing 

Michele Rabken spoke on behalf of promoting arts education in Berkeley schools. “Arts education should be moved from the margin to the core. It is also important to provide development for teachers in the arts,” she said. Radkin also stressed that music programs need to be given wider support and that funding should be provided for full time visual arts programs. She also suggested an increase in the length of middle school days in order to accomodate arts courses. Among the other propositions Radkin spoke about were professional development of teachers, renovation of arts specific access areas, and collection of data on equibility of the arts program and how it can be improved.  

Luarie Polster stressed on the importance of providing quality arts education to every child in Alameda County and pointed out that there was a dire lack of arts education in elementary schools in Berkeley. “It’s amazing to see how a 4th grader’s attention span improves when he is involved in a drawing assignment. It’s rather unfortunate that the current survey does not support anything that would bring in funds to support the arts. We need to get some funding through the Parcel Tax that would boost arts education in schools,” she said. 

Barry Fike, President of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers called for better transparency in the allocation of funds recieved through Parcel Tax measures. “BUSD needs to be more transparent about what the funds are being used for -- be it the arts, libraries, or class sizes,” he said. Fike added that BFT has supported previous Parcel Tax measures and that they were ready to work together with BUSD to discuss new ideas on how to improve Parcel Tax measures.