Public Comment

Commentary: Throwing Stones

By Bill Hamilton
Friday August 04, 2006

The front page article by Suzanne La Barre in the Aug. 1 edition celebrating Michele Lawrence’s five years as BUSD superintendent gave me pause to consider my own views about the current state of BUSD and the City of Berkeley. Let me share them with you. 

I swim at Willard Pool. This is my major form of recreation and activity for staying healthy. This is the case for many other adults who use the pools in Berkeley. The last several years I have noticed that there are a lot of stones at the bottom of the pool, especially at the south east corner where the pool and the Willard school yard share a tall fence and locked gate. Why do stones litter the bottom of the pool? The obvious answer is that Willard school kids are taking aim and tossing these objects over the 12-foot fence and gate into a body of water that is for the most part off limits for their use during most of the day. You can’t blame the kids for showing their frustration. 

My own views have come partly from my involvement with trying to preserve the wonderful neighborhood pools that the current generation of Berkeley folk has inherited from our farsighted forbears. The citizens and educators who built King, Willard, West Campus, and the warm pools on School property a half century ago knew the whole community benefits from having access to swimming. Adults and school kids learn water safety, recreation, and a healthy lifestyle with the benefit of friendly neighborhood water parks-pools. This was a win-win situation which allowed everyone to come out ahead because the City of Berkeley and the BUSD work together to maintain pools and run aquatic programming. This is the fantasy version. 

Actually, the school district and the city have for years fought over the funding of pool maintenance and improvements. The district for decades has put zero money into the pools while using the pools for PE classes and high school sports events. When the city, due to a lack of funding these last several years, asked the district to help fund the pools the district responded by ending their aquatic PE programs at Willard and King middle schools. Due to a full court press by the United Pool Council, the PTAs and concerned city and school staff a modified aquatic PE schedule has been reinstituted this last year during the early fall and late spring at Willard and King middle schools. This is a very good thing but the district is still not contributing to the funding of these pools and these pools face closure nine months out of the year. This is the reality of the tough no nonsense management style of Michele Lawrence. We all lose, specially the kids whose health and safety are used as pawns in this single minded effort to control the budget process with the city. 

Actually the reality is much worse, the warm pool is facing being evicted from a building slated to be torn down by the district on the high school campus. The current warm pool users will be homeless and out of luck if the BUSD is permitted to procede with their redesign efforts. 

In my opinion the BUSD under the leadership of Michele Lawrence gets an F for community relations. This is the community which has in the past been so generous with the district by passing special tax measures for the schools. Even though I have a child attending Berkeley High, this year I will think very long and hard about voting for any more special tax measures. I am throwing stones back until the larger community is heard and dealt with. 


Bill Hamilton is a Berkeley resident.