On Nov. 7 Berkeley residents will decide on the fate of Measure A.
Measure A renews two existing school measures—Berkeley School Excellence Project (BSEP) and Measure B—at existing rates. Both BSEP and Measure B expire in June.
BSEP and Measure B provide the Berkeley Unified School District with $19.6 million annually, which primarily pays for 30 percent of Berkeley’s classroom teachers, all elementary and middle school libraries and music programs as well as school site funds.
“If Measure A passes, the current budget level continues,” said Dan Lindheim, chair of the BSEP/B Planning and Oversight Committee. “Ninety percent of Measure A continues the essential class size reduction, school library, music and art, and site enrichment programs authorized and reaffirmed by Berkeley voters since 1986. If Measure A fails, the schools will lose 25 percent of their budget, which means eliminating 30 percent of the teachers, libraries, the music program, athletic programs, and much more—and this is even assuming the district can avoid a state takeover.”
Although every major organization, elected official and candidate for office in Berkeley supports the measure, it does not come without opposition.
Organizations such as the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CNA), Berkeley Alliance of Neighborhood Associations (BANA) and Berkeleyans Against Soaring Taxes (BASTA!) have attacked the measure, stating poor financial responsibility and management, dismal academic achievement and a lack of maintenance of community resources.
Marie Bowman, president of BANA and board member of CNA, said that financial transparency and academic performance were some of the main concerns of these neighborhood groups.
“We want better academic achievement, dismal results are unacceptable,” Bowman said. “BUSD has the widest back/white achievement gap in the county. We also want better financial transparency so that we can see if funds are being spent responsibly—both in day-to-day management and fiscal management.”
Lindheim said that the opposition is trying to confuse voters.
“Because of that lack of support, they are waging a campaign of deliberate misinformation,” he said. “There is absolute transparency in the current system. The BSEP report that comes out annually documents all the funds and the public have full access to it.”
Members of United Pool Council have also opposed Measure A. They state BUSD’s negligence toward the warm water pool as the main reason.
Lindheim said the allegations were untrue. “The pools are run by the city, not by the schools. It is a city bond issue and has nothing to do with Measure A,” he said.
School board director John Selawsky called the oppositions’ accusations “preposterous.”
“I urge all citizens to read the measure carefully,” he said. “All inaccuracies can be put to rest then.”
Berkeleyans for School Management Access Accountability Responsiveness and Transparency (BeSMAART), another neighborhood group chaired by Yolanda Huang, a former BUSD parent, proposes performance auditing—applying the standards of the federal government’s Accountability Office—to set standards for the district administration and to evaluate administrator’s performance.
“I am all for performance audits,” said Lindheim. “I think we are probably going to include it in Measure A.”
School Board Director Nancy Riddle, who was involved in the process of rewriting Measure A and is up for reelection this year, spoke about the steps that had been taken to ensure its success.
“We conducted public surveys, public hearings, and dozens of smaller focus groups and sought and received heavy input from the planning and oversight committee. Additionally, the district completed an 18-month community planning process to identify these programs that most improve academic achievement. Those priorities are written directly into Measure A, including increased professional development, improved systems to monitor achievement data, and additional counseling.”
School board candidate Karen Hemphill said that without long-term financial stability that comes with passing Measure A, Berkeley’s schools would struggle to raise the academic achievement of all students, including students with special education needs, struggling students, average students, as well as academically gifted students.
“How are our schools supposed to make progress on closing the achievement gap if they have 25 percent less money than our schools have now?” she asked. “How can Berkeley compete to attract top-quality teachers without long-term financial stability?”
Huang and Bowman also said the timeline of the parcel tax measure is too long.
“Ten years is way too much,” Huang said. “There should be more frequent reporting to the community of how the school district is doing and community review.”
Bowman said that since technology was changing so frequently, a four-year term would be more suitable. “We want the school district to rewrite Measure A for the March 2007 ballot so that it addresses the current loopholes in academic achievement and financial transparency,” she said.
Lindheim, however, said that there was no time to write a better measure.
“More importantly there is no better measure,” he said. “If the measure isn’t approved in November, then 40 percent of BUSD teachers will be laid off. New teachers will be the first to get fired.”
Cathy Campbell, vice president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, echoed Lindheim’s thoughts.
“BSEP and Measure B have ensured that Berkeley students receive more than a reading, writing and arithmetic kind of education. They allow schools to have an identity,” she said. “They provide funds for the sports program and the gardening program at Malcolm X which is really important for my son. They are also a resource for teachers to continue to grow and learn.”
Karen Pertschuk, a BUSD alumni and parent, said that the parcel taxes had allowed her son to study in a smaller classroom which resulted in better interaction with the class teacher.
“They keep the class sizes under control and provide money for the instrumental music program,” she said. “My son would not have had music this year if Measure B had not passed this year.”
The campaign disclosure statement for Measure A was filed on Oct. 26.
Total contributions received in support of Measure A amounted to $66,338.63. Total expenditures made towards the campaign were $49,512.96.
Berkeley developer Patrick Kennedy’s monetary contributions in support of the Measure A campaign totaled $1,250. The California Federation of Teachers and ZFA Structural Engineers both contributed $1,000.
No campaign contribution and expenditure forms have been filed by BeSMAART, which is campaigning against Measure A.
Berkeleyans’ Against Soaring Taxes did not disclose the cost of the “No on Measure A” posters it has put up on the telephone polls in Berkeley and had not filed updated forms with the city by the Oct. 26 deadline.