Parents and kids filled Berkeley’s council chambers to speak out to the School Board about the importance of the district’s gardening and cooking programs, Nov. 13, 2012. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Families from a range of Berkeley school communities packed the Berkeley School Board meeting last week to speak out about the importance of the district’s gardening and cooking programs in the face of financial changes that could threaten the efforts in the future.

Parents used school PTA email lists before the Nov. 14 meeting to ask supporters to attend the session to show their commitment to the programming.

According to an email sent to LeConte Elementary School parents, “Currently, 14 of the 18 school sites in Berkeley receive a total of $1.9 million each year in federal funding for nutritional education through the Network for a Healthy California. These funds are expected to starkly diminish if not totally disappear as soon as next year or in the very near future.”

The district “has no transition plan in place” to make up for the loss in financial support, according to the LeConte message, and four schools continue to lack programming in gardening and cooking.

The email continues: “Now is the time for Berkeley to craft an ambitious, forward-­looking District­wide program to meet the current and future challenges facing our students and families, including reducing childhood obesity, strengthening students’ core academic skills, bridging the achievement gap in line with Berkeley’s 2020 Vision, and building nutrition education and sustainable life skills into our kids’ and families’ daily choices.”

Earlier this year, parents feared that the district would lose funding for the programs in 2012-13 but, as reported by Berkeleyside in June, a state network came to the rescue.

At that time, Leah Sokolofski, program supervisor for the BUSD Cooking and Garden Nutrition Program, said that the Network for a Healthy California, the state program that administers the federal monies to local school districts, had told BUSDoit would extend the funding for an additional year.

Give the financial uncertainty long term, parents formed the Berkeley Garden and Cooking Alliance, along with representatives from all Berkeley schools and some community groups, to advocate for continuation of funding for the programs.

Last Wednesday night, dozens of parents told the school board how much the programs mattered to them and their children.

Parents said programs like the district’s edible curriculum are the ones that draw many families to Berkeley schools. Photo: Emilie Raguso

“Our time is short and the time for action is now” to save the programs, said one father.

Parents said programs like the district’s edible curriculum are the ones that draw many families to Berkeley schools, and part of what makes them willing to pay higher taxes and rent to live in the city so their children can participate.

Parents donned school t-shirts to show their local pride, and brought signs and drawings to demonstrate their support for the programs.

One speaker said she hoped the board would see “how much these classes and these programs are loved,” as “parents all over the district are saying, ‘This is why my kid goes to school.'”

Parents addressed the board during the public comment period, as the item was not part of the meeting’s scheduled agenda. (Board members are not legally allowed to comment on items discussed during this part of the meeting.)

The board plans to take up the issue at its Nov. 28 meeting, said Co-Superintendent Neil Smith of the Berkeley Unified School District, via email. Smith said documents for the meeting will be posted on the district’s website Tuesday evening.

Berkeleyside will continue to cover this issue when it returns to the board.

School edible programs get reprieve from the feds [06.14.12]
Berkeley district votes to fund at-risk edible programs
Community seeks life support for school edible programs [03.30.12]
Berkeley school district cuts to tackle $3m deficit [03.28.12]
Berkeley school gardening, cooking face cuts [03.23.12]

This story is also published on Berkeleyside NOSH, our brand new food section covering Oakland and Berkeley, launched last week. If you’re interested in local food news, bookmark NOSH and follow Berkeleyside NOSH on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Emilie Raguso (senior editor, news) joined the Berkeleyside team in 2012. She covers politics, public safety and development. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...