Public Comment

Berkeley School Construction Bond Oversight

By Stephanie Allan, Co-Chair, Construction Bond Oversight Committee (on behalf of the committee)
Monday July 18, 2011 - 11:01:00 AM

On June 29, 2011, a reader commentary appeared regarding the expenditures of BUSD bond monies. The commentary contained a number of inaccuracies and, as Co-Chair of the Construction Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC), I’d like to correct them. For your readers’ information, the CBOC is constitutionally mandated, under the California State Constitution, Article 13A, section1, subdivision (b)(3), and is part of the California State Education Code. Such committees have broad independent authority to audit and oversee expenditures of what are called Prop. 39 bonds, which is what Berkeley voters approved last November. These committees are required as a condition of issuing bonds under Prop. 39. 

Our Committee has seven voting members, including an architect, attorney, facilities director (for another school district) and a structural engineer. Membership qualifications are specified in the enabling legislation. All our meetings are governed under the Brown Act and are properly noticed. The School Board has decided that oversight of the remainder of Measure AA and Measure A monies, the last two construction bonds, will also be assigned to the CBOC. 

At this time, the District has sufficient classrooms for the current enrollment. However, some high school students are housed in portables while the plans to replace the portables with permanent construction have been submitted to the State Architect for approval. Secondly, there is the ongoing need to upgrade and rehabilitate classrooms to meet changing educational needs. The District would be derelict if it did not have an ongoing program of doing this to meet student needs. Thirdly, there are projected enrollment increases that require some additional elementary classrooms. 

In regards to District funding for a charter school, charter schools are the law. Districts are required to use public funds to house charter schools. Whatever one’s opinion is of this legislation, the answer lies in Sacramento, not in Berkeley. Most of the Realm charter school students live in Berkeley. For those who don’t, the District is allowed to go back and assess the charter school for the costs of providing operational costs for out-of-district students. The District is doing this. The bond funds assigned to the charter school are for construction, for a District owned building. And I want to reiterate, BUSD has no alternative, under current law, but to provide facilities for charter schools. 

The issues about specific projects “NEVER mentioned” in Measure AA is a bit disingenuous. Measure AA was a bond requiring two-thirds approval by voters, a very high bar. In exchange for that, a district is allowed limited flexibility in spending the funds on construction projects with the authors of the enabling legislation recognizing changing needs over the life of the bond. 

For example, storm or fire damage or breakdowns of major mechanical systems can and have unexpectedly changed priorities. However, all monies must be spent within the confines of the bond, i.e., on construction, remodeling, upgrading or rehabilitation. All decisions regarding Measures A and AA funds were publicly discussed, overseen by the Citizens Construction Advisory Committee and subject to public hearings at the School Board level. To suggest anything else is inaccurate. 

Also, state law requires that all bond expenditures are subject to an independent audit to guarantee they are being spent properly. All BUSD bond monies were audited, certified and the audits are a matter of public record. To say otherwise is inaccurate. 

The allegation that the seismic upgrades of our schools don’t meet Field Act certification, the law governing such upgrades, is inaccurate. All work done on the District's pre-K, middle school, high schools and adult school meet the Field Act and, in many cases, exceed it. Berkeley has been recognized statewide as being one of the first and one of the few districts to have completed all seismic upgrades at all facilities used by students. 

However, it is true we have one building that, while it does meet the Field Act requirements, it does not meet the District's higher standard for seismic safety. That is the Old Gym at Berkeley High. The District does not use it for classes any more because of seismic concerns and other problems. It is scheduled to be torn down and replaced with a facility that will provide needed classrooms for BHS (currently being met by portables on the south of BHS's campus), a new gym and will be a clean, safe building for students to use. The funds to do that are in the Measure I bond passed in November 2010. 

Additionally, there are funds to complete sports fields, add cafeteria space at the middle school level, upgrade our technological infrastructure, do solar installations, replace a 100+ year old building used by the District’s maintenance staff as well as upgrade mechanical systems and add high school science lab classrooms. 

Berkeley voters have supported these programs, starting in 1992, overwhelmingly, demonstrating their confidence in the School Board’s leadership of these construction programs. Our City’s students have some of the best and safest facilities in the state. And Berkeley taxpayers have monitored and overseen those bond expenditures from the start. Inaccurate, inflammatory rhetoric cannot change those facts and does not serve public discourse in these matters.