On November 17, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) School Board discussed potential budget cuts for the 2022-23 school year.
Things have begun to return to normal for BUSD schools. However, as more and more people go back to work, student enrollment in BUSD and all public education institutions across the United States is in fact decreasing.
According to BUSD’s Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Pauline Follansbee, in the past two years, BUSD has seen a loss of around six hundred students in schools across the district.
Currently, district-wide enrollment is at 9,800 students, with over 3,000 at Berkeley High School (BHS). As student enrollment has a direct impact on the amount of school funding the district receives, BUSD may have to cut $6.6 million from its annual budget for the next school year.
Even so, Associate Superintendent Rubén Aurelio said the school board is determined to provide the best possible resources, services, and education for Berkeley students. Working with the budget cuts, the district will act according to their “Budget Development Principles.”
“Using the budget principles that Assistant Superintendent Follansbee presented, we would be really looking closely at not trying to cut positions that are directly serving students,” Aurelio said.
The school board has been working on a proposal to accommodate these budget cuts into the current spending of the district so as to not unnecessarily disrupt current systems. The various areas from which budget cuts are to be made have been classified into several categories, including educational programs, operations, human resources and staffing, Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP), and grants.
The educational programs section encompasses special education services such as mental health assitance, the English Language Learner program, and Universal Ninth Grade (U9) Learn, Engage, Accelerate, Persist (LEAP) classes.
The operations category relates to the central district office, overall maintenance, and the school lunch program, which has become free to all students until next year.
To plan for the budget cuts, BUSD has employed a strategy of searching for people and positions within BUSD instead of outsourcing to other agencies.
“The interesting piece here is that it wouldn’t be a reduction in staff,” Aurelio said. “In fact, we would be adding staff and services, but the assumed saving would come [with] the fact that we wouldn’t be contracting out.”
The category of human resources and staffing involves hiring or freezing vacant administrative positions, as well as taking into account the possibility of an increase in student enrollment with vaccines becoming available for kindergarteners through sixth graders. Knowing that their children are protected from COVID-19 may make some parents more comfortable with sending their younger students to in-person school, and BUSD is taking this trend into account to plan for this scenario should it occur.
However, if enrollment doesn’t increase, instead of reducing class sizes to account for fewer students, BUSD could reduce the number of classes, keeping sizes the same. This would get rid of the need for some classes altogether, thereby saving on the cost of having them.
Given that getting rid of outsourcing could lead to more jobs in BUSD, there may not be a net loss in staff despite the potentially lower number of classes.
Lastly, the grant section would pertain to the Educator Effectiveness Block Grant that the district receives from the government, as well as future grants providing BUSD with funding.
A multi-million dollar budget cut is significant, but BUSD is aiming to minimize negative effects.