Berkeley Adult School Threatened By Governor’s New Budget

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 04, 2010 - 08:38:00 AM

More than 100 Berkeley Adult School employees showed up at a Jan. 20 School Board meeting to protest the governor’s most recent round of budget cuts to education, a move they fear might affect them greatly. 

Although the district has not announced any cuts to the adult program since slashing it by $1.5 million last year to cover part of an $8 million budget crunch, more reductions are anticipated. 

Berkeley Unified School District Deputy Superintendent Javetta Cleveland told the board that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had proposed a negative cost-of-living adjustment, a reduction of .38 percent, along with 18 percent less revenue for 2010-11. 

Additionally, the January budget proposes a $1.5 billion cut for school district administrative costs, something District Superintendent Bill Huyett said was “very vague” at this point. 

“Perhaps it means cuts in maintenance and utilities—that we’ll have to turn the heat down or the phone lines off,” Huyett said. 

“Or maybe hold meetings in the dark,” chimed in School Board Member John Selawsky, 

Berkeley Unified is set to lose $200,000 from its revenue as a result of the negative cost-of-living adjustment. Ongoing targeted cuts will slash $1.7 million from the district’s revenue or $200 from every student.  

The governor’s budget will no longer consider seniority while making employment decisions but will allow as much as 60 days’ layoff notification for teachers after the state budget is adopted. It also eliminates the requirement to give laid-off teachers priority as substitute teachers at their former pay rate. 

Berkeley Federation of Teachers President Cathy Campbell stressed that it is important for the school board to understand the critical role adult education plays in the community as they tackle the budget cuts over time. 

Campbell said the school, which serves over 10,000 students every year, had already eliminated summer session and pronunciation classes and increased the number of students in English language classes. 

The school also reduced the number of vice principal positions from two to one and cut staff hours by half last year. 

Former Berkeley Adult School Vice Principal Tom Orput left to join the adult school in the Alameda Unified School District. 

“Adult Education brings education to the community and community to education,” said Marge Essel, who teaches an integrated fine arts program at BAS. 

Other teachers and instructors spoke of the adult school’s dedication to low-income and minority groups, who benefit from an affordable education. 

They recounted stories about immigrants who graduated from the school after learning to speak English and homeless people who enrolled in classes to learn basic living skills. 

“Many BAS students are people who were not well served by the K–12 system in California,” said adult school teacher Peggy Datz. “They are folks who need and deserve a second chance ... We are the safety net for adults in our community who want to move ahead but who did not succeed in the public school system and are not yet ready for community college.” 

School Board Member Shirley Issel assured the crowd that the district would do its best to help the school. 

“To walk in the doors of the school is to see the Berkeley dream be enacted daily,” she said.