More Cuts On the Way for School District, Adult Education

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday June 25, 2009 - 07:10:00 PM

The Berkeley Board of Education approved more budget reductions at a board meeting Wednesday in response to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May revision of the state budget. 

The cuts were in addition to the $8 million made earlier this year, responding to the 2009-10 state budget approved by the Legislature in February. 

Schwarzenegger’s latest budget proposal will slash nearly $2 million from the Berkeley Unified School District in the current school year and $3.7 million in 2009-10, only $2.2 million of which district officials predict will be replaced by federal stimulus dollars. 

Berkeley Unified Superintendent Bill Huyett said that while the “overall California budget is very much up in the air,” the district had been able to make “the necessary budget reductions without additional layoffs in the pre-K–12 program.” 

Huyett said Berkeley public schools were in a far better position than other Bay Area school districts, many of which were forced to increase class sizes to 30 students in kindergarten through third grade. 

Berkeley Unified, Huyett said, was fortunate to be maintaining average class sizes at 20 in fourth and fifth grades and 28 in grades seven through 12. 

The district has also been able to reduced the number of tenured teacher layoffs to one. 

Huyett also thanked the Berkeley community for supporting public education through Measure A and other ballot measures over the last two decades.  

He acknowledged that the district had prepared a preliminary budget for 2009–10 with “significant unknowns,” including the final 2009–10 state budget and federal stimulus funds, initially promised for May, but now tentatively scheduled to be distributed later this year. 

A report prepared by district Deputy Superintendent Javetta Cleveland shows that the total cuts in the district from the February budget and the May revise amount to $13.6 million, of which $7.4 million has been addressed with the help of federal stimulus funds, state flexibility funds and the first round of budget reductions approved by the board. 

Cleveland’s report recommended using a number of budget revisions and adjustments to deal with the $5.3 million shortfall. 

An analysis of Berkeley Unified’s Post-Retirement Benefit Fund and the Worker’s Compensation Fund by district staff showed that contributions to each fund could be reduced in 2009–10 and still meet existing obligations. 

Reducing the rates, according to Cleveland’s report, would not affect employee compensation and would instead lower expenses throughout the district, including nearly $700,000 in the general fund. These funds would also return significant amounts to the general fund in 2008–09. 

The $3.7 million shortfall in 2009–10 will be alleviated by $2.2 million in stimulus funds; reductions in post-retirement benefit rate and worker’s compensation rates; a proposed reduction in health benefit costs created by raising deductibles; $400,000 from the Berkeley Adult School (through reduced services and higher fees), and a few smaller changes. 

The adult education budget itself was cut by $1.3 million in the February state budget.  

The state budget gave districts the option to eliminate adult education entirely in 2009–10 and four successive fiscal years to thwart the effect of state reductions to general fund revenues.  

Instead of putting the entire program on the chopping block, Berkeley Unified reduced its adult education program, eliminating adult summer school programs, decreasing some English language learning, high school diploma and older adult classes and charging students and agencies more for senior programs. 

The district will be able to transfer $400,000 from the adult education revenue to its general fund by making additional reductions, such as trimming classes offered for disabled students and seniors, charging fees for English language, vocational and high school diploma classes and raising fees for agencies that offer classes for its disabled adults. 

“We did talk a lot about this with students, and some of them recommended a higher fee,” said Margaret Kirkpatrick, Berkeley Adult School’s outgoing principal. “We are looking at an amount achievable to students with lower incomes, something that would save the school and is in line with other adult schools. And, of course, any student can apply for a fee waiver or scholarship.” 

Kirkpatrick said that although eliminating some programs had been “painful,” the school would continue to benefit students in many ways. 

In an attempt to close the budget gap, the district will also hold back from paying the City of Berkeley $180,000 next year for sanitary sewage service, clean storm water, pool use and maintenance and the Berkeley High School Health Clinic 

Huyett said that although Berkeley Unified was in a better position than other districts, the list of layoffs included bus drivers, clerks, vice principals, counselors and other employees.