'Grim' Cuts Proposed for Berkeley Unified

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The Berkeley Unified School District's proposed budget for the upcoming school year will cut an expected $2.6 million to cover its part of the $1.5 billion reduction in education funding planned in the governor's 2010-11 state budget.

The proposal, presented Wednesday at the Berkeley Board of Education meeting, includes staff layoffs and cuts to vital funds, including those that help students pass the California High School Exit Exam.

The full $50,000 used to support students in the district who retake the exam would be cut. About 82 percent of Berkeley High School students passed the English portion of the exam and 80 percent passed the math portion in the 2008-09 school year, according to the California Department of Education Web site.

The district had hoped to retain these funds to help achieve the goals of the 2020 Vision for Berkeley's Children and Youth plan, according to board director Nancy Riddle.

Approved in June 2008, the plan attempts to improve the academic success of all students in the district.

"A lot of these things are not minor things ... they're direct support to the kids," Riddle said. "We're removing things that we were legitimately relying on. That's what makes this even more grim to us."

District spokesperson Mark Coplan said there is "not a single department that can be spared" from the cuts.

"Unfortunately, everything we do is affecting the 2020 Vision," he said. "It puts more strain and stress on all the participants. It puts more strain on the community. We can't make cuts this deep and not affect programs. Public education will be cut back so far that we'll never be able to recover."

Coplan said the cuts will eliminate necessary jobs. For example, a vice principal position at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School would be removed under the new plan.

"It's absolutely insane," he said. "These kinds of cuts are horrific."

The proposed reductions for staffing also include the elimination of nine classified staff jobs in the school district, although two new jobs would be created to combine four of the eliminated jobs. The staffing changes would save the district over $500,000, according to the proposal.

Staff members would be furloughed for two staff development days under the proposal, a move predicted to save $600,000. Because this would be subject to union negotiations, the proposal provides for an alternative cut that includes reducing the number of counselors at Berkeley High School from 10 to eight and would save about the same amount of money.

Anthony Smith, counselor for the Academic Choice program at the high school, said that if two counselors are fired, each remaining counselor would have a greater number of students to serve and less time with each student.

"The counselors are not just people who look at students' transcripts," Smith said. "They're actually a mediator, lawyer, supporter for differences that may take place between students and teachers. There's a major support system there, so when you minimize that support, you're more or less handcuffing the student because they don't have anyone to turn to if there's a conflict."

Students will also face a decrease in funding for summer school, field trips and athletic trips.

"The way we're going now, we're dismantling public education as we know it," said board president Karen Hemphill.


Contact Soumya Karlamangla at [email protected]

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