The online version of the Berkeley High Jacket leads with a story today about what its editors describe as a crisis

Students who manage Berkeley High School’s student newspaper, the Berkeley High Jacket, which is marking its 100th anniversary this year, say the publication is in crisis after the school withdrew part of its support.

The paper, which is published every other week and online, is categorized as a class and is therefore allocated a staff supervisor and a number of periods relating to the number of students who are registered for the class.

For the past three years, the paper’s faculty adviser has been advanced video teacher Dharini Rasiah. At the end of the last academic year, Berkeley High eliminated a media support services course which amounted to 20% of Rasiah’s quota of daily classes. As she had been devoting much of that course time to the Jacket, which, by her estimate, takes up 20-30 hours of her time a week, the overall time she could commit to the paper has been significantly reduced. Rasiah has also given a new art class to teach.

The Jacket‘s editors and Rasiah say the paper needs to be classified as a two-period class in order to continue with its current staffing levels of around 130 students, about 35 of whom are editors. “If it does not become a two-period class it will be compromised,” Rasiah told Berkeleyside. She said the paper needs to retain all its editors, writers, illustrators and photographers and that its website, which has been part of the publication for the past three years, requires significant staffing.

Dharini Rasiah, faculty adviser for the “Jacket,” addressing the BUSD board on Wednesday Aug. 22. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Dharini Rasiah, faculty adviser for the “Jacket,” addressing the BUSD board on Wednesday Aug. 22. Photo: Tracey Taylor

“If we do not get proper funding, the Jacket will be cut from its original 130 members to around 40, and only publish four times a year compared to the bimonthly publishing schedule we normally have,” said Tal August, one of the the Jacket‘s two managing editors. Abbey Chaver, the other managing editor, said such cuts would be “drastic”. “I wonder what shape the paper would be in and whether we would be able to continue at all,” she said.

Pasquale Scuderi, Berkeley High’s Principal, said he would be meeting with Rasiah and others to discuss the situation today and hoped to be able to have more clarity on the situation next week once all students were registered and the coming year’s course load had been finalized.

He said he wanted to understand exactly how much seat time the Jacket demanded: “We need to know how many students take credit for the Jacket and how many hours they actually work there. We take responsibility for not having better accounting on this.” Scuderi added that, in an ideal world, school administrators would not be having to pit programs against each other, but that with budgets as tight as they are, tough decisions have to be made about funding. “We may need to add a credit recovery or student support program. These would have to take priority,” he said.

Scuderi said that in many high schools the school newspaper is counted as a five-day-a-week journalism class and this is an avenue BHS might explore. He said he could not promise to be able to fund the Jacket with money, but that the situation should be clearer next week.

Aside from the staff support, the Jacket does not receive funding from the school district. It fundraises throughout the year and accepts donations in order to cover its costs, including printing, which August estimates amount to around $2,000 per issue.

A group of Jacket supporters, including its editor, Julia Clark Riddell, and BHS parents, joined Rasiah in highlighting the learning opportunities presented by The Jacket to the BUSD Board on Wednesday night. They said these included writing, business management and financial skills. Juliette Mueller, the board’s new student director, said the Jacket was tangible proof of the school’s intellect, and cutbacks at the paper would be a dampener to the spirit of Berkeley High.

Read the statement made by Dharini Rasiah to the BUSD Board on Wednesday night.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...