School Board Recommends Changes to Berkeley High School Governance Council

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday August 14, 2009 - 07:03:00 PM

At its first meeting after summer break, the Berkeley Board of Education  

Wednesday recommended changes to Berkeley High School’s School Governance Council. 

Following complaints from parents regarding the Governance Council’s lack of transparency and non-compliance with federal, state and local guidelines, the board formed a two-member policy subcommittee in June to investigate the issue. 

Bylaws adopted by the Berkeley Unified School District for its elementary and middle schools in April 2008 mandated that a single committee be created to analyze school data, develop an annual plan, allocate supplemental funds and oversee other activities.  

But Berkeley High’s complicated makeup prevented any single committee from being formed.   

Instead, the school has two separate 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. 

The school board subcommittee—comprised of board members Shirley Issel and John Selawsky—was formed to realign the Governance Council to make it more consistent with the district’s K-8 public schools. 

One of the main issues the policy subcommittee looked at was the constitution of the  Governance Council, which stemmed from concerns raised about the lack of parity between parents and students and teachers and staff at Berkeley High and Berkeley Technology Academy, the city’s only public continuation school. 

Issel and Selawsky met with Superintendent Bill Huyett over the summer to address these issues and consulted with Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp about the proposed changes. 

Huyett said that although there was nothing to suggest that the Governance Council was out of compliance, Slemp had agreed that the following short-term modifications could be made before the start of the school year on Sept. 2 in order to address parental concerns: 

1. Eliminate from the bylaws the principal’s right to veto the appointment of an elected member to the School Site Council. Huyett said Slemp had called this a “moot point” because he didn’t think it was necessary to have this bylaw there in the first place. 

2. Continue to post minutes of the meetings in a timely manner. Huyett acknowledged that the high school sometimes had problems posting the minutes online and asked school officials to add school board members and the superintendent’s office to the list of people who received the minutes. 

3. The bylaws will be changed to allow comment on any issue during the public comment section of the agenda. Currently, the bylaws allow public comment only on items listed on the agenda. 

4. The bylaws will be amended to require that an explicit count of votes be taken and recorded in the minutes for both the School Governance Council and School Site Council for any item requiring School Site Council approval. Huyett called this a pretty significant change, explaining that it would help the votes to get on the record in a more precise way. 

5. The district will provide training to all existing and new School Governance Council members. 

Issel said she hoped this would help the members to think of future modifications to the Governance Council. 

The five changes will be presented to the Berkeley High School Governance Council for approval, after which the school board will vote on whether to adopt them. 

As for the long-term changes, subcommittee members said they were still examining three different models of governance: 

1. The K-8 model which has merged BSEP and the School Site Council into a body called the School Governance Council. 

2. The current hybrid model at Berkeley High which has merged the functions of a Leadership Team with the functions of a School Site Council, giving rise to a Shared Governance Council. 

3. The modified hybrid model which would be similar to the current model but would at times have the School Site Council meet separately from the School Governance Council to discuss and vote on matters that require only Site Council approval, such as the single plan for student achievement. 

Huyett said the board had not yet presented these options to Berkeley High.