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Parent Complaints Prompt Berkeley High School Governance Realignment

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday June 18, 2009 - 07:41:00 PM

A Berkeley Board of Education policy subcommittee was scheduled to recommend realigning Berkeley High School’s Governance Council to make it more consistent with that of the district’s K-8 public schools at the board’s meeting, which took place yesterday, Wednesday, June 17, after the Planet went to print. A report on the meeting can be found at 

The subcommittee was expected to ask the board to “discuss and give directions on the overall structure of governance at Berkeley High,” . The board was also scheduled to approve district Superintendent Bill Huyett’s proposed budget reductions for the district based on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May revision to the state budget.  

The policy subcommittee has recommended that the school form a “Leadership Team” and a “Shared Governance Commit-tee” in place of the current “hybrid structure.” 

The recommendation comes after at least two school board directors and a number of Berkeley High parents expressed concern about the school’s current Governance Council. At least one parent filed a formal complaint with the Berkeley Unified School District and the state Board of Education alleging that the council was out of compliance with federal, state and local guidelines. 

As a result, the School Board asked Christina Faulkner, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, to report on whether Berkeley High adheres to federal, state and School District regulations for school governance and site councils. 

Faulkner’s report, delivered at the last School Board meeting on June 10, listed the various state, federal and district requirements, but did not specifically explain where the Berkeley High School Gov-ernance Council was in or out of compliance, something Berkeley High Parent, Teacher and Student Association Presi-dent Mark van Krieken pointed out in a newsletter to parents. 

“There have been concerns raised about practices not understood or not clear to the public,” Faulkner told the board. 

Berkeley High currently has two primary committees—the School Governance Council, which also acts as the School Site Council, and the Berkeley School Excellence Program (BSEP) Committee—which oversees expenditures raised under a special local assessment. 

Faulkner’s report provides an overview of the procedures of the two committees, including composition, selection process and responsibilities. 

The state has strict guidelines for how school site councils should be constituted, which state that in K–8 schools, the composition should be equally split between parents and teachers or staff. At the high schools, parents and students are each supposed to make up 25 percent, with teachers or staff constituting the remaining 50 percent. 

Berkeley Unified implemented school governance councils at all of its schools in order to combine the duties of each institution’s school site council and BSEP committees. The state does not provide any guidelines for school governance councils. 

In April 2008, Berkeley Unified approved bylaws for its elementary and middle school governance councils which incorporated state and federal legal prerequisites related to Title 1 and other categorical programs apart from local (BSEP) requirements. 

These bylaws, Faulkner’s report said, mandated that a single committee be created to review school data, develop an annual school plan, allocate supplemental funds and oversee other activities.  

However, the “complex nature of Berkeley High School” prevented a single unified committee from being formed, Faulkner said, leading to the establishment of the Governance Council and the BSEP Committee. 

The high school is currently following a different set of bylaws, which were most recently revised in Nov. 2007 and are now under review for noncompliance. 

  One of the main issues the School Board is looking at is the constitution of the Governance Council, because of concerns raised about the lack of parity between parents and students and teachers and staff at the high schools. 

Berkeley’s only public continuation high school, Berkeley Technology Academy, has two parents, two teachers and four staff members on its Governance Council. Berkeley High School shows 18 staff and teacher positions with only four parents and four students on its council. Governance councils at all other Berkeley public schools, including independent study, have equal numbers of parents and staff.  

Several of the 18 staff and teacher positions at Berkeley High include two teachers who share a vote, bringing the total number of teachers and staff to 26, compared to eight parents and students. 

Van Krieken in his newsletter says that some people in the Berkeley High community are concerned that this was “putting parents and students in such an overwhelming minority position, they have been disempowered in both the discussions and in their ability to have a meaningful vote.” 

Additionally, although Faulkner’s report lists 26 members on Berkeley High’s governance council, the final tally shows 27—a discrepancy School Board Director John Selawsky brought to everyone’s attention, and one Faulkner said the district would investigate. 

School Board Director Beatrice Levya Cutler called for more diversity on the Governance Council, recalling that she had been the “only person of color” on the council when she had served in the past. 

In response to concerns about the lack of transparency about the meetings, Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp said that the meetings had always been open to the public. 

“We have never limited the time; sometimes we have had to expand the time,” he said.  

Although some parents said they were not too happy about Slemp chairing the Governance Council, state education department official Richard Graham as well as Faulkner confirmed that state guidelines did not prohibit this action. 

Slemp told the board at the meeting that “he had no interest in being chair,” but that it was a role often thrust upon him because nobody else wanted to stand for election. 

At the last meeting, Board Director Shirley Issel said that there was “no doubt that the Berkeley High Governance Council was out of compliance in many areas,” and she requested that a policy subcommittee look into the matter immediately 

“We just want to make it so that it’s compliant and that people see it as an equitable decision-making process,” Superintendent Bill Huyett said of the Governance Council. “The school is a much different place than it was five years ago, and so now maybe it’s time for the decision-making system to evolve as the school has.” 

Van Krieken said in his letter he was hopeful that the School Board and the district would move swiftly to address the issues and implement changes before elections for new Governance Council representatives were held in September. 


The district’s report on the school Governance Council can be found at and