Derby Field EIR Funding On BUSD Board Agenda

by Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday May 16, 2006

The Berkeley Board of Education is set to decide whether to ratchet up funding for an environmental analysis of the East Campus Field project Wednesday. 

In April, the City Council agreed to share in the cost of an environmental impact report (EIR), which would serve as the framework for developing a sports field at the district-owned site bounded by Martin Luther King Way and Derby, Milvia and Carleton streets.  

But because the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) owes the city for municipal services—an invoice that is partially disputed—the “share” will take the form of a trade-off. Accordingly, district staff is asking school board directors to appropriate funds for the entire EIR, estimated at $180,000 to $200,000. 

Initially, the board agreed to expend no more than $100,000.  

The project could involve the closure of Derby Street to make way for a regulation-sized baseball diamond, an undertaking that would require City Council approval. Berkeley High School’s baseball team does not have access to a standard baseball field within walking distance to campus; players practice at San Pablo Park, on Park Street between Russell and Ward streets. 

Debate over how to best utilize East Campus Field, currently a vacant lot, has long divided school and neighborhood communities. Many students, particularly athletes eager for a quality playing field, support the closed-street plan, while residents fear closing Derby Street could have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood. A weekly farmers’ market is held on Derby Street. 

If the EIR is approved, consultants would study the effects of both closing and leaving open Derby Street. District staff are recommending that LSA, a planning firm with offices on Fifth Street in Berkeley, conduct the review. A public scoping session would take place before the EIR drafting process begins.  


Graduation options 

In other news, at Wednesday’s regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting directors are scheduled to vote on a new model for the Alternative High School that would allow students to select from three pathways to complete graduation requirements, one a college track, one vocational-based and the third an independent study course. The school would be a classic “continuation” model in the sense that some students attend against their will. The estimated cost of the revamp is $139,000 for staff, paid for through fund redistribution, district staff says.  


Parcel taxes  

Also on Wednesday, the board will hear revisions to a renewed parcel tax that could go before Berkeley voters in November. 

District staff are recommending a renewal of two parcel taxes, the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP) and Measure B of 2004, measures that provide BUSD with about $19 million a year. They have been working with district committees, principals, administrators, unions and parent groups to draft the current revised proposal, which would maintain the existing tax rate but would earmark an extra 1 percent, or $230,000, to music and visual and performing arts. Funding for class size reduction would decrease by a corresponding amount. 

“Given the hot competition for this money, it’s a good thing,” said Bob Kridle, outgoing chair of the BSEP Music Committee. “It’s a pretty small addition, but it’s something.” 

Average class sizes would be 20 in kindergarten through the third grade, 26 in grades four and five and 28 in secondary schools, excluding PE classes. Reduced funding for class sizes was faciliated by recalculating support for special education class sizes, Lawrence said in a correspondence to the board. 

Directors are scheduled to vote on the measure May 24.  


Preschool initative 

Also Wednesday, the board will take a position on Proposition 82, the Preschool for All Initiative, slated to go before California voters this June. The proposition would earmark $2.4 billion a year to provide high quality preschool education for all the state’s 4-year-olds. It is estimated that about 35 percent of California children do not attend preschool. 

Under Proposition 82, teachers would be required to hold bachelor’s degrees, and teaching standards would be implemented to ensure accountability. County offices of education would administer the programs locally. 

The initiative has earned the support of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, State Superintendent Jack O’Connell, the California Teachers Association, Assemblymember Wilma Chan, Alameda County Office of Education Superintendent Sheila Jordan, the Berkeley City Council and many others.  

It has also garnered a fair amount of criticism, particularly from private and nonprofit preschool administrators who fear the program could adversely affect non-public early childhood education institutions. UC Berkeley researchers released a report today that shows one in five directors saying his or her preschool would close if a public school opened a free program nearby. More than half the directors studied disagree with the measure, compared with 35 percent who favor it. 

The Berkeley Board of Education meets 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. For more information, call 644-6206.