Riddle, Issel Win School District Seats

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday November 14, 2006

Editor’s note: This article was published in the Nov. 10 issue, but did not run in its entirety. This is the complete article with updated vote totals. 


Incumbents Nancy Riddle, Shirley Issel and challenger Karen Hemphill have won the three open seats on the five-member Berkeley Board of Education. 

Leading the pack was school board director Nancy Riddle, who captured 20,798 votes, or 29.77 percent, according to the registrar of voters as of Monday afternoon. 

Karen Hemphill came in second place with 19,778 votes, or 28.31 percent of the total. School board director Shirley Issel finished third with 17,185 votes, or 24.60 percent. 

Riddle, CFO of Monster Cable Products, is currently finishing her first term with the school board. A strong supporter of Measure A—the school parcel tax which won by a landslide in Tuesday’s election—Riddle has been involved in rewriting it since 2003. 

She pledged to work on removing barriers in education and to encourage a transparent and open budget process that reflects the values of the Berkeley community. 

Hemphill’s victory has made her Berkeley’s first African-American school board director in 8 years. An assistant to the city manager in Emeryville, Hemphill has previously been a member of the Berkeley’s Civic Arts Commission and the Commission on the Status of Women. 

Hemphill, who has served on the steering committee for Measure A, thanked Berkeley voters for passing Measure A. 

“We have a lot of work to do,” she said. “With ten years of funding from the school tax measure we can focus on student achievement. We need to get the middle-school kids ready for high school, improve Berkeley High and B-Tech and improve reading comprehension. The board also needs to be a lot more open, and healing needs to take place between the School Board and the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.” 

Barry Fike, president of the teachers’ union, said that teachers were pleased with the election results. 

“The teachers really campaigned hard,” he said. “We endorsed Karen Hemphill and we think she is someone who is going to add a lot to the school board. She is interested in listening to the voice of the teachers as well as the community.” 

Issel, a clinical social worker, has served on the school board for eight years. She said she will continue to use her skills as a professional social worker and educational reformer to improve teaching and learning in the district.  

“It is very important for me to continue in the partnership with the Berkeley Integrated Resource Initiative (BIRI), which is an initiative with the Berkeley Alliance,” Issel said. 

“BIRI is like an umbrella under which BUSD, the city of Berkeley and local community organizations work collectively to identify and weave their relative resources to effectively address barriers to learning and to promote healthy development for all Berkeley children. We are now ready to enter the next phase where we hope to focus on kindergartners, which is a key aspect of the achievement gap,” she said. 

First-time candidates David Baggins and Norma Harrison came in fourth and fifth. Baggins won 7,633, or 10.93 percent, and Harrison received 4,287 votes, or 6.14 percent. 

Baggins, a professor of political science at California State University, East Bay, had made school registration one of the main issues of his campaign. 

“This was an opportunity to demonstrate to the district how to run a valid registration system. They say that they have done that which is great. I am sure all the board members who were elected this year will take their job very seriously,” he said. 

Harrison, 71, a realtor and former public school teacher, had never run for public office before. During her campaign, Harrison had emphasized the need for discussions about helping students in Berkeley enjoy school. 


Victory for Measure A 

Measure A, the school parcel tax which renews two existing school measures—Berkeley School Excellence Project (BSEP) and Measure B—won a decisive victory with 29,868 or 79.48 percent of the total votes, as of Monday. 

Both BSEP and Measure B, which expire in June, provide the Berkeley Unified School District with $19.6 million annually, which primarily pays for 30 percent of Berkeley’s classroom teachers and all elementary and middle school libraries and music programs as well as providing school site funds.  

With Measure A passing, the current budget level will now continue.  

Ninety percent of Measure A will fund class size reduction, the school library, music and art, and site enrichment programs which have been authorized and reaffirmed by Berkeley voters since 1986. 

If Measure A had failed, the schools would have lost 25 percent of their budget, which would have resulted in the elimination of 30 percent of the teachers, libraries, the music program and a lot more. 

BUSD Superintendent Michele Lawrence told the Planet that she was relieved with the results. 

“I am ecstatic that our community once again gives this endorsement for our public schools. I look forward to working with our confident and cohesive board on improving the school district,” she said.  

School Board candidate Harrison said that she was not enthusiastic about Measure A because it did not support the kind of programs her campaign had endorsed. 

“If it goes on funding the same institutions again and again instead of experimenting with new ideas, such as creating forums for discussion and allowing students of all age groups to work together, then it will not help our children to enjoy what they learn,” she said. 

Although Measure A had been supported by every major organization, elected official and candidate for office in Berkeley, with the exception of Harrison, it was opposed by various groups such as the Council of Neighborhood Associations, the Berkeley Alliance of Neighborhood Associations, Berkeleyans Against Soaring Taxes and Berkeleyans for School Management Access Accountability Responsiveness and Transparency.