Policy Subcommittee Considers Whether Berkeley High School Is Properly Governed

By Raymond Barglow, Special to the Planet
Wednesday December 23, 2009 - 08:53:00 AM
John Selawsky, Shirley Issel, Margit Roos-Collins, Priscilla Myrick, Peggy Scott, and Superintendent Bill Huyett.
Raymond Barglow
John Selawsky, Shirley Issel, Margit Roos-Collins, Priscilla Myrick, Peggy Scott, and Superintendent Bill Huyett.

A policy subcommittee of the Berkeley Board of Education once again took up the issue of equality in Berkeley High School’s governance at a Dec. 16 meeting. 

Following complaints from parents regarding lack of transparency and non-compliance with federal, state and local guidelines, the board convened a policy subcommittee in June to investigate the issue.  

The California Education Code specifies that there must be parity on public high school site councils, or any equivalent governance structure, between school personnel on the one hand and parents and students on the other. But this balance does not exist at Berkeley High. The BUSD website states that “The Berkeley High School Governance Council acts as the School Site Council (SSC),” although the Governance Council (SGC) has 20 school personnel but only eight parents and students.  

The policy subcommittee is composed of School Board Members Shirley Issel and John Selawsky and District Superintendent Bill Huyett. They were joined Wednesday by parents and SGC members Peggy Scott and Margit Roos-Collins and former SGC member Priscilla Myrick. 

According to Scott, “The bylaws are broken at every meeting of the Berkeley High School SGC, and no one seems to care or do anything about it.” Myrick noted similarly, “The lack of parity has been documented to the board over and over again, and there is no enforcement of the education code.” 

Scott said that there may be “bitter power struggles” unless guidelines are established for School Site Council membership. She remains hopeful, however, that the Policy Subcommittee will prove effective in addressing current governance issues: “If someone is going to make this situation right, it’s Mr. Huyett and the School Board members. They’re diligent and work hard.” 

The parity matter is especially important to some parent representatives on the SGC because of its recent vote to defund before- and after-school science labs at BHS. This proposed shift in funding priorities has elicited a storm of criticism from parents and members of the science department, as reported in the Daily Planet’s Dec. 17 edition. Evy Kavaler, SGC representative and head of the science department, opposes the cut to the science program as do two of the four SGC parent representatives and most of the faculty in the science department. 

A bulletin from BHS Principal Slemp following the vote announced that “The next steps in our school redesign plan have been approved by School Governance Council. None of the plan requires School Board approval, so we will move directly to planning for implementation for next fall.” 

Some parent representatives take exception to this account. In a note sent to the Policy Subcommittee, Scott wrote “At the last SGC meeting, Jim said he was seeking ‘support’ for his new plan that involved de-funding science labs 0 [before school] and 7th period [after school], but ‘did not need SGC approval.’ Because he said this, when there was no consensus, I did not call for reconsideration at the next meeting, or for a vote of the School Site Council as would be required by the bylaws.” Scott concluded in her note that “The design plan was not approved by the SGC. And now it appears that the principal intends to do an end run around the School Board as well.” 

Board members John Selawsky and Shirley Issel have said they will attend the next meeting of the SGC to discuss compliance of the council with the bylaws. The public may also attend this meeting, which is scheduled to be held at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 5, in the Community Theater Lobby. 

The policy subcommittee then discussed class sizes, which vary widely in the “small schools” into which BHS is divided. Superintendent Huyett said that school boards usually do not make decisions regarding class size, and that some classes have more students in order to lower the class size in others. “When you have higher need students, slow learners, you typically vary your staffing.” 

The subcommittee reviewed the procedure whereby students choose a BHS small school. It has always been board policy that any student who wishes to enroll in one of the two larger programs at the high school (AC or BIHS) should be permitted to do so. There is some evidence that this message is not being communicated to all students and their families. 

Another subcommittee agenda item regarded language translation of information that Berkeley schools send out to families. When 15 percent or more of students in a school come from a family whose native language is not English, then the school provides a translation. This is a very expensive service, and the district is considering whether it can do more than is required by the state education code. 


Raymond Barglow is the founder of Berkeley Tutors Network.