Berkeley public schools are supported by supplementary funds coming from the “Berkeley Schools Excellence Program” (BSEP). These funds are provided by Berkeley voters, who once again this past November passed bond measures in support of the schools. The funds are, by law, allocated for specific educational purposes, and a “Planning and Oversight Committee” (P&O) oversees implementation.
Last week, the BSEP P&O Committee met to hear a report from Superintendent Bill Huyett about allocating funds for the next school year. Huyett noted that it is possible to shift some BSEP funding to compensate for state funding shortfalls, but that this has to be done in accordance with the will of the voters as expressed in the BSEP guidelines. P&O Chair Dan Lindheim also spoke about the importance of maintaining the trust of the voters, while acknowledging that “There is lots of debate about the meaning of words in the regulations.”
Huyett spoke in detail about the current status and prospects of the district. Budgetary planning has become an extraordinary challenge, he said, since it remains unclear how much funding from the state will be available to support district education. Huyett said that the Board must be prepared for three funding scenarios:
A. A flat budget, maintaining this year’s funding levels. That is an optimistic expectation, assuming that the voters decide to continue paying taxes that fund education. Huyett noted that Governor Brown’s policies promise to be more supportive of education than the policies of the past Governor were. However, the District is going to lose some federal funding this school year.
B. Additional cutbacksdue to voter rejection of taxation continuation measures and failure of the legislature to approve taxes. This could result in a loss of $300 per student in Berkeley public schools.
C. “Doomsday scenario”: cutbacks may have to be more extensive, amounting to between $800 and $1000 dollars funding loss per student in the district.
Huyett said that he is hopeful that option A will prevail, but that the district must be prepared for additional cutbacks if they are required by the absence of government support. He is placing a priority, he said, on not reducing teacher-student ratios in Berkeley schools.
One of the educational projects funded by Berkeley taxes is “Expanded Course Offerings” (ECO). An issue raised during the P&O meeting regards whether these offerings are being funded in accordance with the BSEP guidelines governing bond measure implementation. Principal Scuderi noted that some classes are being funded by BSEP for five periods per week, but are actually meeting for only two out of those five periods.
However, BSEP guidelines specify that “any teacher allocated to provide expanded course offerings, like all classroom teachers funded from the BSEP Class Size Reduction fund, must be assigned to classroom [emphasis in the original] instruction, and may not be used for non-classroom duties such as administration, activities coordination or counseling.”
When Parent Peggy Scott, representing Berkeley High School on the P&O Committee, asked whether BSEP regulations are being followed in the case of ECO-funded classes, Mr. Scuderi replied that AP augmentation classes (which students take to receive college credit and prepare for the AP English test) involve additional work on the part of teachers and have an on-line component. Superintendent Huyett added that on-line instruction in a “virtual class” may possibly satisfy BSEP rules: “A lot of learning does happen on-line. This is the college-board model; it is what they recommend.”
The Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP) began in 1986 as a response to funding shortages caused by the passage of Prop 13. At issue today is whether and how much BSEP funds can compensate for a new shortfall, due to the current failures of state and federal government to support public education at even a minimally adequate level. Dealing with severe economic constraints originating beyond Berkeley’s own borders remains the perennial challenge of government in our city.