Berkeley Today: Wednesday

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday May 26, 2010 - 04:17:00 PM

In the news today: Berkeley Public schools brace for some stiff cuts, Rosa Parks Elementary School celebrates Harvey Milk Day, a new report from UC Berkeley law school calls for better mental health treatment for juvenile offenders and Waterside Workshops opens a café run by local youth at Aquatic Park. 

BUSD braces for cuts 

Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Bill Huyett sent out a letter today detailing significant cuts to the school district for the third straight year. Although the school district has slashed $11 million from the budget for over two years, more reductions are necessary. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed reductions coupled with BUSD’s increasing costs have forced district officials to reduce their General Fund budget by $3.1 million for the next school year. 

From the superintendent’s letter: 

“A couple of years ago, California was 47th in per student funding for education; now, after of two years of severe cuts, the state ranks even lower. In many districts, kindergarten through third grade classes, once 20 students, are now 30. Average high school class sizes of 36 to 40 are becoming commonplace. Thanks to Measure A (BSEP), we are not planning to reduce the number of classroom teachers next year or to increase class size. Berkeley grade K-3 classes will remain at an average of 20 students; grades 4-5 at an average of 26, and grades 7-12 at an average of 28. It is with a real sense of sadness that I watch the continuing economic crisis being compounded by a lack of resolve in Sacramento to prevent the financial collapse of school districts across the state. While in Berkeley there are local resources in the form of Measure A (BSEP) and Measure BB (Facility Maintenance) to help with class size, music, library and other programs, the cuts we will have to make will severely affect the education of our students. Compounding these difficulties, the Governor has just proposed to eliminate almost all state funding for preschool programs and some afterschool programs, such as the district's BEARS program. (The LEARNS after-school programs are not affected by this reduction.) Currently, BUSD runs a $5.0 million pre-school program and K-3 afterschool program (BEARS) for low-income families, funded completely by the state and federal governments. The governor's cut would eliminate about $3.6 million of that funding. 

The preschool and BEARS program reductions proposed recently by the Governor come as a shock, and no local support is in place for these programs. This proposal hits our most vulnerable population: children in low-income households. We are collaborating with City of Berkeley and other preschool providers to attempt to mitigate the damage if these reductions become part of the state budget. District preschools, and other area preschools funded by these monies, provide a valuable boost to children as they prepare for kindergarten. Kindergarten readiness is a primary goal of 2020 Vision activities, aimed at eliminating the achievement gap. 

I asked my staff in February to make a preliminary list of budget reductions, and this list has been reviewed by the Superintendent's Budget Advisory Committee which made its own recommendations to me. That committee is comprised of an equal number of employees (including all five unions) and community members. The School Board will make all final decisions and must pass a balanced budget by the end of June. Proposed reductions include: 

-- Over $1 million in non-salary items, including classroom furniture, textbook money, state school-targeted funds, high school exit exam support monies; and transportation department cuts that will require changes to funding field trip and athletic team transportation; 

-- Elimination of six positions, including a middle school vice principal; 

-- Adult School programs cuts of $325,000, including fewer classes, higher fees, and higher class sizes; 

-- Elimination of $500,000 of operating costs with the opening of our new transportation facility (half of this reduction was built into this year's budget). 

I have proposed a one-day furlough of all district staff in order to reduce the number of positions to be laid off. A furlough would need to be negotiated with our unions, and my proposal is for the furlough day to be on a staff development day when no students are attending school. 

Three straight years of budget reductions are extremely demoralizing for our hard-working teachers and staff, especially those who are receiving notices of possible layoff. I appreciate the community's support of teachers, staff, and administrators, so I want to continue to keep you informed you about these budget reductions. You can sign up for email updates at the website," 



Rosa Parks Elementary School celebrates Harvey Milk Day 

Rosa Parks Elementary School celebrated Harvey Milk Day Wednesday to remember Milk’s life and recognize his accomplishments. Harvey Milk Day was enacted and signed into law last October by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Under the measure, May 22 is officially Harvey Milk Day in California, coinciding with Milk’s birthday. Although it is not a state holiday, schools are encouraged to hold lessons to remember the contributions he made to California. At a 1:15 p.m. assembly, a group of Rosa Parks fifth graders narrated a short slideshow about the life of Harvey Milk, followed by songs honoring diversity and uniqueness. According to BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan, the Rosa Parks assembly “is a sign that the Berkeley public schools are already practicing the lessons of the Welcoming Schools Curriculum recently approved by the Berkeley Board of Education.” 

More BUSD Events: 

May 26th: Official Opening of BUSD’s New Transportation Facility  

The public is invited to the Open House & Ribbon Cutting for the Berkeley Unified School District’s new Transportation Facility, which district officials are saying is one of the greenest and most efficient transportation centers in the state. The transportation facility is saving the district $450,000 per year. 

Location and time: 4 to 6 p.m., at 1314 7th Street. Berkeley High orchestra students will provide music at the event. May 27 and June 1: 

New draft Mission, Vision, and Values to be discussed in Public Forums 

The Berkeley Unified School District invites the community to participate in a public forum to give input on the draft of the new Mission, Vision, and Values for the district. 

Thursday, May 27th from 4:00-5:30pm in the Longfellow Library (1500 Derby at Sacramento) and Tuesday, June 1 at 7:00-8:30 p.m. in the B-Tech Auditorium (2701 Martin Luther King Jr. Way). 

The Draft Mission, Vision and Values are posted here for your information or see a video on the development of the new Draft Mission, Vision, and Values. 

(Note: due to elementary school open house on May 27th, the previously announced forum for 7:00 pm was changed to Tuesday, June 1.)  

June 3: College is a Family Affair 

Berkeley City College (BCC) and Berkeley Unified School District invite parents and graduating high school seniors to an informational night at BCC: 

Location and time: Thursday, June 3, 2010, 6:00-8:30 p.m., Berkeley City College 


UC Berkeley law school report calls for better mental health treatment of juvenile offenders 

A new report from UC Berkeley’s School of Law’s Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice says that the justice system fails juveniles with mental illness. According to the report, juvenile delinquents diagnosed with mental illness have been incarcerated at steadily higher rates in California’s juvenile justice system for nearly a decade. Yet, they rarely receive the right treatment for their mental health disorders in part due to improper screening and diagnoses, inadequate access to mental health professionals or treatment facilities and deep budget cuts. 

The report, Mental Health Issues in California’s Juvenile Justice System delves into these issues and offers recommendations to policymakers, local officials and practitioners on ways to bring about reform. 

Waterside Workshops opens café run by local youth 

They are calling it Berkeley’s only waterfront café. Two weeks ago, Waterside Workshops at the Berkeley Aquatic Park opened a café run by local youth training for jobs in the food service industry. According to Waterside Workshops Executive Director Amber Rich, many of the teenagers come from challenging backgrounds and have been in foster care, group homes and even incarcerated. 

“But now they are serving cappuccinos and lattes that give Starbucks a run for their money,” Rich said. “Some of the kids helping to run the café have really interesting or difficult stories, and it is amazing that they have gotten to where they are today.” 

A blurb from the new café reads: 

“Please come down to enjoy a latte at Berkeley's only waterfront coffee shop! Watch passing wildlife and water traffic while relaxing in our courtyard. Cafe patrons are also welcome to repair their bikes in our community open shop or peek in to see what wooden boat projects are going on in the yard. The cafe is run by Waterside staff and teenage interns who are training for jobs in the food service industry. Please join us for a coffee and enjoy the view, all while helping to support job-training for local youth. 

Our cafe is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and closed on Mondays. 

All of our to-go cups and lids are 100 percent compostable and our coffee is locally roasted, organic and fair trade! Arrive by bike and get 25 cents off any beverage! 

For more information and expanded hours, please check out our website at: www.watersideworkshops.org