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School Board Approves District Zoning Changes

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday December 03, 2009 - 08:45:00 AM

Parents looking to enroll their kids at Berkeley public elementary schools next year will have a few more choices at Saturday’s annual kindergarten fair.  

Faced with cramped classrooms and a rapidly increasing kindergarten enrollment, the 9,000-student Berkeley Unified School District drew up a plan in October to address space problems in its central and north zones, which are projected to exceed their present capacities in the next decade.  

The north zone in particular is the worst affected, according to district officials.  

The district hired Davis Demographics and Planning, Inc., earlier this year to project future enrollment figures for the Berkeley public schools.  

Data reported to the state by Berkeley Unified shows the district had 9,370 students in 2000-2001, which declined to 8,843 students by the 2003-04 school year. The DDP study shows that over the next five years BUSD’s enrollment stabilized at around the 9,000-student mark with a low of 8,904 in 2004-05 and a high of 9,088 in 2006-07. In 2008-09—the last year the DDP study took into account—it was 8,988.   

The DDP report predicts that most of the growth projected to take place over the next decade will be in the elementary grades, growing from 3,686 to 4,033 students—an increase of 347.   

In the middle schools, the numbers will rise from 1,799 to 1,894, an increase of 95.   

At the high schools, student population is expected to fluctuate over the same period, at first declining and then rebounding to current levels, as larger classes in the lower grades graduate over the years.   

After listening to concerns from Berkeley Arts Magnet and Malcolm X Elementary School PTAs, the two institutions most affected by the proposed zone realignment, the Berkeley Board of Education voted Nov. 18 to approve the district’s preferred model, which will keep the current zone lines intact; Berkeley Arts Magnet will straddle both the northwest and central zones.  

The new model will also see the central and southeast zones sharing Malcolm X.  

Berkeley Unified School District Facilities Director Lew Jones, who worked on the new model, told the Planet that the changes would leave parents with more options for their children.  

Until now, the north zone only included Rosa Parks, Thousand Oaks and Jefferson elementary schools, with Jefferson being the smallest.  

Next year Berkeley Arts Magnet will be added to the list.   

Parents will also have the option to choose Malcolm X in the central zone.  

“It’s nice for the parents to have some notice,” said Jones. “That way we won’t have to spring the choices on them at the last minute. Now they have the option of visiting Malcolm X or Berkeley Arts Magnet if they want to.”  

District Superintendent Bill Huyett said the district hoped the zone changes would address the population increase for the next two or three years, after which it would start looking at constructing classrooms.  

“In the long run we might add space to the schools themselves,” said Jones. “But we don’t know how many kids we will be serving in five to six years. Everything is an estimate. Some of the kids haven’t even been born yet.”  

Jones said that the district had listened to parents’ concerns and made amendments to the original plan before seeking the board’s approval.  

“We made some adjustments—there were some misunderstandings that by adopting the zone changes we would be putting portables in one place or the other,” Jones said. “Parents at Jefferson wanted us to add classrooms to the old cafeteria there rather than cutting down on playground space. We don’t have a lot of open playground space in our schools so it’s understandable that parents don’t want to lose whatever is there.”  

Jones said that the district would also consider using the annex at Washington Elementary School—currently occupied by Berkeley High School, which has severe space crunches of its own—for elementary classrooms, but that the plan would require “additional analysis and research.”  

Huyett said that parents at Malcolm X wanted the district to look at staffing patterns, clerical support and campus supervision for bigger schools as well as the hiring and retention of intervention teachers.  

“Some parents were concerned that Malcolm X would go over 500 students, but we are hoping that will not happen,” Huyett said.  

The annual Kindergarten Fair will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 5, at LeConte Elementary School, 2241 Russell St.