On September 8, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) School Board approved the 2021-22 budget, which includes a $2.3 million transfer from Fund 20 — a fund used for post-employment benefits for employees — to the Unrestricted General Fund, as well as the use of eight hundred thousand dollars of remaining COVID-19 funds.
According to the fiscal team, the estimated expenses for this year add up to a total of $3,140,500, which encompass $630,000 for COVID-19 testing, $546,500 for the contact tracing team, $1,390,000 for staffing, and $574,000 for expenses not related to COVID-19. Among the expenses unrelated to COVID-19, the board approved forty thousand dollars for Coaching Boys Into Men, a consent education program for athletes adopted in response to persistent sexual misconduct issues at Berkeley High School (BHS) in recent years.
Sexual misconduct at BHS was also a topic that arose during the public comment section of the meeting. BHS senior Abby Lamoreaux testified about the district’s failure to support survivors of sexual harm. Lamoreaux shared her experience with an administrator who pulled her out of class several times in an attempt to pressure her to file a sexual misconduct report. Angela Coppola, a BHS history teacher, intervened, speaking with the administrator.
“I will be filing a complaint against BUSD, this system that did not train this administrator properly and forever chooses the rights of perpetrators of sexual harm over the rights of people who are harmed because there is no appropriate training for administrators on trauma-informed practices,” Lamoreaux said. “How messed up is that? That the only way accountability happens at BUSD is when students, teachers or parents advocate and intervene?” Lamoreaux added.
In addition to trauma-informed training, Lamoreaux advocated for a full-time Title IX case manager in BUSD.
“I did speak with the administrator in question in [Lamoreaux’s] story, and this is an administrator of good faith who wants to do right by our students,” Coppola said. “We’re all here to serve the kids, and this just really goes to show that someone who’s trying to do the right thing did not in fact do the right thing, and this training is really important,” she concluded.
Coppola urged the district to listen to “people of conscience” and institute training that addresses the power imbalances, including the power teachers and administrators have to compel students to report sexual misconduct.
The rest of the meeting was dedicated to fiscal matters. School Board President Ty Alper commented on the importance of Fund 20, which the district drew from in the meeting. The fund provides post-employment benefits that are owed to employees in addition to their pensions.
“We’re needing to draw from a fund that we have money in but is not meant for this purpose to pay for what we need to keep our schools open and to fund some of our other critical priorities,” Alper said. “I’m convinced we have to do it, but it also makes me nervous and I worry about depleting Fund 20 too much,” Alper added.
In order to keep schools open, the district has implemented a massive COVID-19 testing and contract-tracing operation. This undertaking is extremely time-consuming and expensive, not only depleting one-time COVID-19 funds, but also requiring the allocation of additional district funds, such as Fund 20. Alper added that if the COVID-19 expenses continue past this year, the district will be forced to find money elsewhere, as this is a one-time transfer.
“There have been such a broad variety of needs over the arc of these two years, and [COVID money], though it seemed really significant, has been spread across multiple needs for a very long time,” Superintendent Brent Stephens said. “This evening, we are now drawing down that balance to zero, and starting to dip into our own district funds to be able to continue to meet these ongoing needs,” Stephens said.
Some of this funding has been allocated towards a new COVID-19 response team. Trish McDermott, the district’s public information officer, described this development as necessary in order to respond quickly once a COVID-19 case has been identified. The team is working 7 days a week, including nights and holiday weekends.
Monetary resources are also necessary to purchase COVID-19 tests. According to McDermott, BUSD currently has approximately 22,000 tests, almost all of which are rapid antigen tests. The district is placing another order for both additional antigen tests, which provide immediate results, and PCR tests, which are considered to be more accurate.
From tests to vaccinations to contact tracing the District has been spread relatively thin since the start of in-person school, especially as they have not received much aid from the state.
“All of our schools and our districts have become newly minted public health entities, when really our focus is teaching and learning,” director Julie Sinai said.