Illustration by Grace Schafer Perry
Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) staff will propose two million dollars in cuts to the BUSD Board of Education to go into effect for the 2019-20 school year. BUSD staff will likely propose the cuts to the board in February 2019. These cuts would be in addition to nearly two million dollars in budget cuts that went into effect this year.
Many school board directors agree that the reason for these budget cuts is the quantity of money that the school system is required to pay to the teachers’ pension fund. Josh Daniels, Berkeley School Board president, stated, “the cause of the cuts are increased costs as well.” School Board Vice President Judy Appel said, “The State has mandated that we contribute paying more toward an unfunded mandate, so paying for CalPERS and STRS, which are the pension funds.” The increasing necessity of local governments to pay into unfunded mandates for pension funds is backed up by research by the nonpartisan California Policy Center. According to their research, by 2024 we can expect a 16 percent rise in the amount of money we’re paying to these pension organizations. “Instead of the state taking more responsibility, which would make more sense, especially because the economy has been good, they’re passing on a lot of that to the different school districts,” said Appel.
The process for identifying cuts will be similar to that of last year. First, BUSD staff will identify where it might be possible to make cuts. The Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC), a committee comprised of teachers, union representatives, parents, and students, will then consider those possibilities. Finally, the Superintendent will review the committee’s recommendations and submit a proposal of cuts to the school board. The school board will then vote on the recommended cuts.
Throughout that period of time, there will be numerous occasions where the public can comment and give their input. “There is an extensive community process that will be used to help develop the proposal,” said Daniels.
According to Appel, there are two openings for students on the SBAC. “If people are interested in being involved in helping to make those decisions, the student voices are very, very important,” said Appel. In addition, all school board meetings are open to the public and have times where members of the public can comment. School board meetings are Wednesday evenings twice a month at 7:30 PM.
There is no way to know for sure what cuts SBAC will propose, but it is possible that they might revisit some of the cuts that they identified last year, which the school board voted against. Some of the major cuts suggested last year included laying off of the Dean of Attendance, shifting around the counselors to different schools, and perhaps most controversially, getting rid of two safety officers. This final cut triggered some angry feedback because of the timing.
The reason the move was opposed by many was because of the decrease in security so close to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. The school board was able to make sufficient cuts without laying off these employees.
Instead, they elected to reduce the number of administrators. According to Appel, they were able to make the cuts with little to no impact on classrooms.
However, she is more hesitant about the feasibility of avoiding impacts to the classroom in the future. “I can’t sugarcoat it,” said Appel. “These are hard decisions to make.”