BUSD School Board discusses funding, climate literacy, SPED


On Wednesday, May 3, the Berkeley Unified School District School Board convened and discussed topics including Climate Literacy education and showcase, budget cuts for the Responsibility, Integrity, Strength and Empowerment (RISE) program, the low funding for Berkeley Technology Academy (BTA), and updates on the funding and development of the Special Education Program. 

The Climate Literacy Resolution, which was passed by the board in Nov. 2021, has been put into action by students, staff, and teachers throughout this year and has been allocated $44,000. Two weeks ago, BUSD schools from K-12 displayed their work in the Climate Literacy Showcase. 

At Berkeley High School, freshman from three of the hives presented to each other on water, the meat industry, and transportation in relation to climate change. Multilingual Learner Program (MLP) students shared projects on the effects of climate change in their countries of origin as well. 

The BHS Student School Board Director, Ian Segall, inquired about ways to implement climate change solutions into BUSD to reduce its carbon footprint. Segall also proposed that students take surveys on the Climate Literacy Showcase to recognize its success and places for improvement. Several goals of the Climate Literacy Resolution that were presented at the meeting were to publish lesson plans for other districts to use, identify site-based climate literacy leaders, identify resources to support ongoing work through Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium  (SBAC), and strengthen community partnerships.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Adriana Betti, a RISE staff member, advocated for the importance of the program and its need for funds in order to continue serving students. Betti shared that the program is asking for $234,000, which would make it possible to take on two more case managers, allow for 92 more students to be in the program, and would create sustainable salaries for the currently underpaid staff. 

RISE primarily serves Black and Latinx students, as well as students with 504 or Individualized Educational plans (IEP), and strives to create educational equity. According to Betti, without funding from BUSD, the program will become unsustainable.

“We have made the painful decision, our contract ends in June 2024, that if the school district doesn’t fund us that we will close our programs down,” said Betti.

Ramal Lamar, a math teacher in his seventeenth year of teaching at the Berkeley Technology Academy (BTA), discussed the need for adequate funding for the school during public comment. Currently, BTA receives $23,000 per year under the Arts & Music Instructional Materials  Block Grant for a Western Association of Schools and Colleges Coordinator. According to Lamar, when there was enough funding to support the 150 students at BTA, they were able to have 10 teachers, provide an A-G pathway, different learning academies, and Career and Technical Education pathways. 

Progress and goals of the BUSD Special Education Program (SPED) were discussed by John Mansager, the Executive Director of the program. In the past several years, funding for SPED has increased, with the percentage of increase in total expenditures rising 9.44% between the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. The full-time equivalent (FTE) has also increased alongside the funding and spending increases, and BHS has a Special Education total FTE of 267.95 as of October 2022. The total FTE adds up all of the employees’ scheduled hours divided by the hours of a full-time work week, which means that more staff have been employed over the past several years. A main reason for this increase is the need for more case managers to prevent current case managers’ case numbers from becoming overloaded. 

According to Mansager, a primary goal within the SPED Program is to increase communication between families, SPED staff, and general education classroom teachers. In order to create the best support system for Special Education students, a cohesive plan is necessary, which is why this communication is vital. 

Mansager also shared that in the past three weeks at BHS, about 300 students with IEPs were assessed to see where they were struggling with reading, and in the next year, more reading intervention will be implemented at BHS. 

According to Mansager, another concern within the program is the disproportionate percentage of students of color being put into the program. The program consists of 28% Black students, 11% mixed race students, 29% Latinx students, and 25% white students. A reason for this is the overidentification of the need for special education in students of color.

“We want to make sure all of our students are very involved and participating,” added Mansager.