Berkeley Unified District BSEP renewal to be on March ballot


On Tuesday March 5, 2024, Berkeley citizens will vote on the renewal of the Berkeley Student Excellence Program (BSEP). BSEP has played a crucial role in providing resources to the Berkeley Unified School District over the past 30 years. 

“BSEP is a voter-approved source of locally controlled funding that BUSD can count on to keep our class sizes small, (and) attract and retain highly qualified teachers,” said Kathy Fleming, director of BSEP. “(BSEP) keeps our school library fully staffed with books and resources and ensures that all of our students have access to arts and music programming and other students’ academic and social-emotional support.” 

Although some may not want to pay the extra parcel tax, the majority of the Berkeley community was inclined to provide funds for education in 2016, winning the vote by 88.9 percent. BSEP helps fund several resources, including college counseling, mental health resources, special education programs, school technology, affinity-based curriculum (such as ethnic studies), and after-school programs (such as seventh period). According to BUSD, BSEP provides funds for a third of BUSD teachers and represents about 20 percent of the BUSD budget. 

A big chunk of this 37 million dollar yearly budget also provides for the arts and music programs, allowing students to start pursuing these interests in elementary school. BSEP funds also cover instruments and art supplies costs and allow students to go on field trips and perform. 

“Our public school system is really a way for us to support all kids,” said Jennifer Shanoski, a school board director for BUSD. “And I think that Berkeley citizens recognize that through these personal taxes, we can sort of give back to all kids within the city.”

Alexander Day, a BHS history teacher and Berkeley Federation of Teachers    organizer discussed how BUSD functioned before BSEP. “Things that are not just the core requirements were cut as much as they needed to be,” Day said. “Because the state would give you money to support requirements.”

BSEP was originally created because of Proposition 13, which helped drastically reduce property tax. This proposition helped many lower-income families across California, but it also lowered California’s budget for education. Since BSEP arose out of a necessity for additional school funding, it holds a lot of influence over the future of Berkeley teachers and their salaries and resources for the schools.

“If BSEP failed, it would be devastating to the district,” said Shanoski. “We’d have to lay off teachers. We’d have to immediately increase class sizes. We would no longer be able to maintain the performing and visual arts programs that, you know, are really a hallmark of Berkeley Unified (School District). It would be absolutely devastating. It would be the largest single cut to our district that we’ve ever that we’ve ever experienced.”

School districts in the area with lower property taxes don’t have enough support to create systems to provide resources like BSEP. 

“So the bigger question is, how come the state of California does not provide us with all the money, meaning how come the federal government is not providing us with all the money we need to fully fund education?” said Day. “Why do we have to rely on, essentially, what are band-aids over a gaping wound? That is not enough state and federal funding.”