Public education is the most critical social justice issues before us today if we are to assure the future of a working democracy. On Nov. 7, Berkeley voters will have the opportunity to renew their support of the public education system by voting yes on Measure A.
If passed, Measure A will continue the city’s commitment of providing the children with the best education possible. As Berkeley residents prepare to cast their votes, I urge them to remember that Measure A is not a new tax—but a continuation of a financial commitment the community made to city schools years ago.
Measure A renews two existing school measures—BSEP and Measure B, both of which provide funding for the19 schools and programs throughout the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD). The revenue generated by BSEP and Measure B represents about 25 percent of BUSD’s overall budget—money that is used to maintain caps on classroom size, fund salaries of nearly a third of the teachers and finance the district’s entire library program.
Measure A will continue other programs that are critical to a well-rounded education, such as music programs for students in grades 3 through 8; site enrichment at each campus; parent outreach efforts, and professional development and program evaluation throughout the system.
Berkeley is a leader in the county-led “Art is Education” programs that we consider an equity issue. The commitment that every student has the arts integrated into every class, every day will be lost as the funding that provides for drama, arts and physical education disappears. The economic crisis that would occur will force the district to make deep cuts that will cripple the progress and the hopes of the district’s students and their families.
As superintendent of Alameda County schools, one of my responsibilities is to provide fiscal and budgetary oversight to the18 unified school districts in the county that I have been elected by voters to serve.
Several years ago, when the district was forced to cut $13 million to balance its budget, the school board and the superintendent guided the system out of its fiscal crisis by consistently making courageous and tough decisions. Now, the district has a sound budget with systems in place to remain fiscally solvent.
Assisting the district in its fiscal recovery was the passage of Measure B and Measure BSEP—both of which expire in June 2007. Not only is BSEP accountable and clear in how the district spends its revenue, it provides a Planning and Oversight Committee comprised of parents and administrators to ensure the funds are wisely appropriated.
Measure A also outlines how all funds will be used, and creates the administrative oversight to ensure all revenues are spent properly.
School districts are under tremendous pressure to raise test scores, but BUSD cannot fulfill its commitment to the community on a starvation diet. To cut funding now is counterproductive and unfair to the children and families of the community. Without Measure A, the system will return to an era of unmanageable class sizes and threats of teacher layoffs and program reductions.
If the city of Berkeley is going to continue to prosper and our children are going to mature into responsible and productive citizens, with every single child receiving the support needed to reach his or her potential, we must pass Measure A.
I urge every registered voter to vote early by mail or on election day, and to vote yes on Measure A.
Sheila Jordan is superintendent of Alameda County schools.