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BUSD Plans for Sustainability

Illustration by Gina Ledor

Parents, students, teachers, community members, Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) School Board members, and nonprofit leaders gathered at Longfellow Middle School’s cafeteria on March 20 to discuss a sustainability plan for BUSD. The district recently hired Susan Silber, the founder and director of the NorCal Resilience Network, as a planning consultant to foster community-driven changes for sustainability throughout the district and document the existing practices already in place.

Silber said the event was the start of a year-long process to write a sustainability plan. “It’s a process of writing a comprehensive sustainability and resiliency plan that encompasses both facilities and curriculum, and we are looking at all sorts of topics: waste water, energy, green schoolyards, etc,” Silber said.

In addition to improving BUSD facilities, Silber said she plans to integrate sustainability topics into district curricula. “We really want to get some input from students, teachers, and parents about it,” Silber said.

Executive Director of Facilities Tim White said that  it’s important for students to realize that sustainability is critical and that while BUSD has elements of it in many of its practices, the district does not have a plan  that identifies the district’s goals to promote more sustainable behavior. White also explained that saving money can align perfectly with good stewardship of the environment. For example, White said that using the facilities fund to transition to solar lowers the utilities bill and leaves more room for spending on classrooms.

Darlene Yan, a BUSD parent and public education specialist at the Space Sciences Laboratory, said the primary challenge she faced in pushing for sustainability at her work place was funding. She said that although the Space Sciences Laboratory received funding from the University of California, Berkeley, it did not have the same sustainable practices as the university, and she hoped to use her experience in advocating for sustainability at the lab in order to support sustainability in BUSD.

“I’m not making any accusations about whether it’s safe or not … I just want to understand what the flooring in the weight room is made of … it’s odorous, it stinks, and since it smells like tires …” said Dr. Antoinette Stein, Berkeley High School (BHS) Safety Committee Member. She said that studies of tires conducted by the state of California concluded that they were unsafe materials, but it’s possible that the district might have used them in the building process without knowing. “Because [the safety committee] received complaints, we just want to know … we can’t get anywhere, it’s been two and a half years … [the documents] are in a box in storage in another room and no one wants to go get it,” Stein said.

Nancy Deming, a sustainability consultant for Alameda County Schools and School Districts agrees that it is difficult to measure BUSD’s progress thus far regarding sustainability, since it doesn’t have a plan as other districts, such as Oakland Unified School District do.

This event to kick off planning for sustainability in BUSD concluded with opportunities to sign up for future working groups that will focus on different aspects of the sustainability plan including nature-based education, transportation, food, waste, water, green buildings and indoor air quality, energy, and green schoolyards.

Silber also plans to facilitate a visioning contest as well as a town hall. In addition to this, Silber would like to have a focus group with BHS students. She said that many of them play an active role in promoting sustainability on and off campus through student groups such as the Garden Club and the Green Team.