New: Council Work Session Considers Budget Woes, Schools Project

By Charlotte Perry-Houts
Wednesday December 15, 2010 - 12:26:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council listened to presentations on Tuesday night, first about the city's budget difficulties, and then about the progress of the 2020 Vision, one of the city's priority projects. Teresa Berkeley-Simmons, the city's budget manager, highlighted the problem of continually decreasing revenues and increasing expenses. Revenues are down $1.8 million for Fiscal Year 2011, and there is a $3 million deficit in the general fund, likely to have increased to $4 million by Fiscal Year 2013. Eighty full-time city employees will have been eliminated by the end of FY 2011, with more staff reductions expected for FY 2012, and staff are taking more and more furlough days. The city is expected to continue spending money on priority programs like the 2020 Vision, a collaboration with the Berkeley Unified School District, and was asked by two public speakers to prioritize retrofitting unsafe buildings and maintaining affordable housing. 

Despite budget difficulties, the 2020 Vision project is moving full steam ahead. Tanya Moore and William Rogers of the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department described the goals and progress of the project, which is a plan to improve the academics and health of Berkeley's children and youth. They explained that their strategy is to start small and build upon their successes, focusing on kindergarten readiness, third grade reading skills, and attendance for all K-12 students. Right now, Berkeley public schools have a dropout rate of 27%. Councilmembers' suggestions included establishing two admissions dates per year for kindergarteners, so that kids are more similar in age when they enter school, and appealing to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for funding.