Council Rejects Ballot Measure To Audit Local Public Schools





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Voters will not get the chance in November to approve a performance audit of Berkeley public schools after the City Council voted down a proposed ballot measure Tuesday night.

Because of the Berkeley Unified School District's growing fiscal and performance problems, parents urged the council to place the measure on the ballot in order to assess whether the district accomplishes educational objectives and evaluate the performance of the district's managers.

Although some City Council members called the ordinance unnecessary, the council asked the Board of Education to discuss the proposal with community members and report back within a year.

Some council members voted against the measure, saying it is too early to tell whether a performance audit would help solve the district's woes, and asked for more time to consider the proposal.

"It might be a very good idea and we may welcome it," said Councilmember Betty Olds. "But we haven't had the chance to analyze it yet."

Performance audits are unnecessary because the district is working to improve its performance independently, said Shirley Issel, school board president.

"We have a recovery system in place to put our data systems back into good working order," Issel said. "Once that is in place we'll have the capacity to assess and measure our effectiveness."

Council members called the constitutionality of the proposal into question, which would cost the city between $100,000 and $200,000 a year.

Since state law regulates the operation of school districts, the imposition of city-sponsored performance audits would overlap the state's authority and cause conflict, City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque said.

Despite criticism from the board, Yolanda Huang, a Berkeley parent, said district parents should have an chance to decide whether or not the district receives a performance audit.

"We are asking you to allow the citizens of Berkeley to make that choice," Huang said.

The proposal comes on the heels of the U.S. Department of Education declaration last week ranking two Berkeley elementary schools among the lowest performing in the nation. Berkeley High School also ranked below the national average in a separate national high school ranking.

Because of a district budget deficit, the school board also eliminated funding for several educational programs and closed a magnate school.

"I have watched in distress as many beloved programs were put on the chopping block," Huang said. "I can't abide another year going by without a performance audit to hold BUSD to a higher level of accountability."

The city council also approved the ballot measure calling for a salary increase for school board directors from $875 per month to $1,500 per month, which could potentially cost the city an additional $37,500 a year.

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