School district considers new areas to cut spending

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Berkeley School District Proposes New Cuts

Senior Staff Writer Soumya Karlamangla goes in-depth about Berkeley Unified School District's proposed budget reductions for the upcoming school year.

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As the strain of California's budget woes trickles down to the local level, the Berkeley Unified School District is considering cutting millions of dollars worth of services and staffing from its budget for the upcoming school year.

The district has released a proposed set of cuts totalling $3.7 million, which could include up to four furlough days, several teacher layoffs and an increase in class sizes. But the district is also grappling with the possibility of nearly $7 million in reductions, a situation that could become a reality depending on the cuts made in Gov. Jerry Brown's May revision of the state budget, which will not be released until May 16.

While district officials try to find more places to possibly reduce spending in an approximately $100 million budget, the proposed cuts that total nearly $4 million are already facing resistance. The district is considering increasing class sizes from 28 to 30 students to save over $1 million, as well as furloughing between one to four days from the school year.

"Everything that's on the table, be it class size, be it furloughs ... all of these are really painful decisions that are going to, in one way or another, decrease the quality of education that the district can provide," said district Board of Education Director Josh Daniels. "We can try to mitigate that, but they're all decisions that will make the district worse off."

The Berkeley Adult School, which was forced to slash its budget by more than $300,000 last year, is also bearing the brunt of this year's proposed cuts. The district is considering cutting more than one-third of the school's $3.1 million total budget. This would include cuts to services for older adults and adults with disabilities, according to Burr Guthrie, the school's principal.

Budget shortfalls are nothing new for districts around the state; for the past several years, as the nationwide financial recession continues and the state struggles to balance its budget, cuts to education have been commonplace.

In the district alone, about $12 million have been cut over the past three years and about $21 million over the past seven years, according to district spokesperson Mark Coplan. Last year, the district originally proposed to cut around $3 million in various services, but when the final state budget was approved Oct. 8, 2010, over $2 million in funding was restored to the district, allowing it to reverse many of its cuts.

But the district's after-school programs faced a rocky road as a result of the state's longest budget impasse in history. In August 2010, the district was forced to cut its state-subsidized childcare program BEARS (Berkeley's Excellent Academic Road to Success) by 75 percent, dropping the number of students served from 300 to 70 and laying off several teachers who worked within the program. Because of the budget impasse in Sacramento, it was not until November 2010, after the beginning of the school year, that the district could begin rehiring teachers and reopening classrooms.

This year, the district is considering a possible restructuring of its child care programs in response to a 15 percent reduction in state funding for pre-school and extended-day programs that has already been approved by the state, as well as an anticipated 10 percent reduction in daily funding per student as part of Brown's proposed budget cuts.

The change would eliminate the 9.5-hour program and potentially inconvenience parents who work eight-hour days, said Zachary Pless, district supervisor for extended learning programs, although he added that the district has asked him for alternate proposals as well.

With all of these preliminary plans, the district is preparing to approve a budget by June 30. But, like last year, the numbers could change based on how the state's cuts are approved or rejected in the May revision.

"It does feel a bit silly in some ways because the entire game board could change for us," Pless said.


Contact Soumya Karlamangla at [email protected]

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