Daily Planet Staff
Thirty years of ever-increasing budget cuts have taken their toll of Berkeley public schools.
Fire hazards are abundant, duct systems are dirty, exposed electrical wiring poses risks to students and staff, and hazardous materials are stored in boiler rooms.
The time has come, says an advisory committee, for the district to make a major, ongoing financial investment in properly maintaining its facilities – or the millions of dollars being spent on building new schools and renovating old campuses effectively will be wasted. “It becomes clear that significant additional monies are needed in order to fund an adequate program, protect the community’s massive capital investment in the schools and provide a health, safe and attractive learning environment for students,” says a report prepared by the Maintenance and Security Advisory Committee.
The group, created by the district last February, will present its findings and recommendations on preventative and corrective maintenance during tonight’s BUSD School Board meeting.
Over the last three decades, the district has chopped away at the maintenance department’s budget. At the same time, school sites are increasingly used outside of the traditional school day, to the point where today “there is not adequate staff to service (district facilities), given the expanded usage.”
In their report, committee members noted many of the financial factors that have contributed to the current state of disrepair “were beyond the control of BUSD.” The report specifically cites the impact of Proposition 13 and the state’s low level of per-pupil spending.
“As BUSD struggled to preserve instructional activities in the classroom, maintenance functions suffered,” the report states. “This was the impossible choice that BUSD faced and continues to face.”
The BUSD currently spends about $1.9 million each year on maintenance, excluding custodian services. The committee says the district must spend at least $4 million annually to effective and properly maintain the facilities, with an increase of 13 full-time employees in the maintenance department. That additional funding should be pursued through a parcel tax on the November ballot, the committee recommends.
The school board meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. and will be held in Board/Council Chambers in Old City Hall, at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.