Measure A gives Berkeley voters a clear choice: keep things financially as they are (a yes vote) or drastically cut school budgets by 25 percent (a no vote).
Most Berkeleyans will vote yes on Measure A, but how can anyone even consider not? Because Measure A needs a two-thirds majority, this is a critical issue.
All Measure A does is renew two expiring school measures (BSEP and Measure B). Measure A does not ask taxpayers for more money; it does not raise taxes.
A yes vote continues the status quo by extending funding for the current BSEP and Measure B programs.
A no vote means cutting everything funded by the expiring BSEP and Measure B.
If Measure A passes, school budgets are balanced.
If Measure A fails, devastating cuts will be necessary threatening the viability of the school district. The county Office of Education (with state responsibility for fiscal oversight) has already notified the district that if Measure A were to fail, the county or state would have to intervene.
Measure A would continue funding the 30 percent of all classroom teachers currently supported through BSEP and B. These funds keep class sizes small and provide for the wide range of class choice at Berkeley High. Small class sizes are explicitly written into the Measure (20:1 for K-3, 26:1 for 4-5, and 28:1 for 6-12) and are crucial if teachers are to improve achievement for all students.
Measure A continues funding the entire elementary and middle school library and music programs (librarians, other library staff, books, music teachers, instruments). It continues funding for counselors, tutors, mentors, and most enrichment and extra-curricular activities.
If Measure A fails, all of this is cut!
So why would anyone even raise questions about Measure A?
Let’s review the arguments used by the small, but vocal, opposition. All are wrong on the facts.
1) Too much flexibility. Putting aside the question of whether flexibility is good or bad, in fact the measure specifies the exact allocation of spending: 66 percent for class size reduction (teachers); 6.25 percent for music; 7.25 percent for libraries; 10.25 percent for site programs (allocated by parent/staff committees at each school for counselors, tutors, mentors, enrichment teachers, etc.); and 10.25 percent for technology (computers), teacher training, parent outreach, and evaluation. For class size reduction, the measure specifies the actual class sizes: 20:1 for grades K-3; 26:1 for grades 4-5; and 28:1 for grades 6-12.
2) Oversight. Measure A continues the strict oversight and accountability of BSEP and Measure B. This includes separate accounts, an internal program control office, a parent/staff district-wide oversight committee, and independent audit. This oversight has been lauded by county and state oversight agencies, as well as by independent auditors. I wish all public funding were subject to the rigorous oversight of these parcel tax measures.
3) Length. First, Measure A is two years shorter than the 12-year BSEP Measure it replaces. Second, many districts have permanent, non-expiring parcel taxes. Third, calls for a four-year measure make no sense. Because of the three-year state budget approval cycle for school districts (districts must demonstrate sufficient revenues for the current year plus two subsequent years), a four-year measure would require a new election every two years (i.e., to ensure that the third year is financed). This would mean no financial stability, no ability to plan, and no ability to retain teachers.
4) Governor’s budget. Most new dollars in the governor’s budget are earmarked one-time monies. The ongoing (not one-time) monies are mostly the state COLA (cost of living adjustment), which is actually a two-year make-up from monies withheld in prior years. Most COLA dollars are already contractually committed to finance the teachers’ cost of living adjustment (teachers received a 1 percent COLA last year and zero increase for the three prior years), and for establishing the 3 percent reserve required by the state.
5) Achievement gap. There is an achievement gap in Berkeley, as in many other districts. This is not acceptable and needs to be directly addressed by individual schools and by the district as a whole. That said, it defies logic that cutting 30 percent of classroom teachers would improve student achievement.
6) March ballot. Some say defeat the Measure and re-write a better measure for the March ballot. First, opponents make no arguments for improving the measure other than the charges above which have no validity. Second, there is no scheduled March ballot. If Measure A fails, the district would have to call a special election to stave off bankruptcy. Even so, by state law, some 40 percent of all Berkeley teachers would receive layoff notices if Measure A were not passed prior to March 15.
Measure A is a well-thought-out continuation of Berkeley’s commitment to its children.
Please continue to care and continue your support for Berkeley’s children, Berkeley’s schools, and Berkeley’s future.
Join me, every Mayoral candidate, every City Council and School Board member, almost every civic organization, and your representatives Barbara Lee, Don Perata, Loni Hancock, and Keith Carson, in supporting Measure A.
Dan Lindheim is chair of BSEP/B Planning and Oversight Committee.