Berkeley Adult School faces cuts under proposed budget

Dozens of teachers and staff from Berkeley schools are planning to leaflet local BART stations Tuesday afternoon to get out the word that planned state budget cuts will decimate the school system.

The 4 pm leafleting, and a planned march in San Francisco on Friday, are part of a week-long effort called “State of Emergency” to pressure lawmakers into extending expiring taxes. Governor Jerry Brown wanted to place tax extensions on the June ballot to close a $26 billion budget gap, but couldn’t get the Republican support he needed to do so.

“If you believe the funding is inadequate for public education, the practical way is to extend the taxes we have in place,” Bill Huyett, the superintendent of Berkeley schools, told a group assembled Monday for a hearing on the BUSD budget. “Your job is to talk to your legislator or if you know a legislator who is in a Republican district, talk to them.”

“We need to get the word out,” said Josh Daniels, a school board member. “I can’t urge you enough. Don’t just walk away. Talk to your friends, your neighbors, your fellow staff. Get them involved.”

Without the tax extension, BUSD is facing a $3.7 million deficit for fiscal year 2012. That translates to a drop of at least $330 each student, although the numbers might get even worse. There is a chance the state will slash $700 from each student, according to Javetta Cleveland, the deputy superintendent for business.

“This has been a roller-coaster ride in terms of what is in the state budget,” she said.

Brown will release a revised proposed budget on May 16, and the district will base its own $120 million budget on those numbers, said Huyett. The district must adopt a final budget by June 30.

The district is considering a number of ways to close the $3.7 million budget gap. It is looking at increasing class sizes in middle and high school from 28 students per class to either 29 or 30 students. This would allow the district to lay off a number of teachers.

It is also considering mandatory furlough days for all staff. One proposed scenario calls for four days off, and another calls for one day off for the district’s 1,500-person staff. The district is also considering cutting some clerical and mechanical positions.

The district is also looking at only keeping the Adult School open four days a week rather than five, reducing the length of the Adult School calendar, and reducing the number of hours it teaches  English as a Second Language, among other proposals.

The district also hopes to charge more for school rentals, increase ticket prices for high school graduation, and to stop subsidizing the cost of graduation ceremonies for the small schools at Berkeley High.

In addition to these cuts, the district is also planning to cut after-school programming for preschools. Its afternoon programs for elementary schools are also facing deficits that need to be addressed, said Huyett.

The district will be holding three budget workshops to gather community input on May 17, 26, and 31. The school board will talk about the budget on June 8, 22, and 29.

The situation would be worse if Berkeley voters hadn’t adopted a number of parcel tax measures which help keep class sizes down and pay for school maintenance, said Huyett.

The Berkeley Federation of Teachers and other unions will be leafleting Berkeley’s three BART stations at 4 pm today. A group will also be traveling to San Francisco for a 4 pm rally at Civic Center Plaza on Friday.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...