The BUSD School Board in December 2015. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD
The BUSD School Board, seen here in December, meets tonight, Feb. 24. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

Berkeley could get a new elementary school in 2018 to help reduce and even out school population sizes around the district, as well as other possible benefits, according to a staff report prepared for the Feb. 24 School Board meeting.

School resources, including staffing and supplies, are estimated to cost $1.07 million annually, which does not include the cost of the actual facility. Some preliminary facility costs may be available in March.

BSEP meetings kick off Thursday. Scroll down for details.

The staff report, prepared by Timothy White, executive director of facilities for the district, and Pasquale Scuderi, assistant superintendent for educational services, lists six reasons the board might want to consider adding a 12th elementary school to its roster.

The new campus could help reduce and balance school population sizes across the district; help reduce or even eliminate portable and temporary classrooms; eliminate the need to consolidate transitional kindergarten classrooms, and reintegrate those classrooms back to K-5 sites over the longterm; help retain and expand “flexible learning spaces” in the district; and create flexibility to deal with “an unforeseen future spike in enrollment without relying on portable or temporary housing.”

They write that “enrollment growth appears to be leveling off for the time being” but that the above reasons are significant considerations in themselves. Still, it will be important to consider the money, they add.

“While these programmatic considerations could ultimately justify the investment in a new school facility, there are multiple and sizable fiscal considerations that must be discussed and analyzed in greater depth before the feasibility and benefits of a new site can be fully determined,” they write.

Estimated costs associated with a new elementary school in Berkeley. Source: BUSD
Some of the estimated costs associated with a new elementary school in Berkeley. Source: BUSD

Tonight’s board discussion follows what the report’s authors describe as “multiple public meetings with staff regarding school capacity and enrollment growth” in the 2014-15 school year.

As a result of those discussions, the board came up with several solutions related to both flexible classroom space, which is used for education but not permanently assigned to a fixed group of students, and launching a partial consolidation of transitional kindergarten programs through 2016-17 at Malcolm X, LeConte and the King Child Development Center. (See Item 13.2 for more detail on transitional kindergarten.)

“Where longer-term solutions are concerned, staff has continued to explore the feasibility of opening a new elementary school, along with revisions of the class size or class loading formula, and also possible permanent additions to existing school sites as possible ways to address enrollment growth over time,” according to the staff report (Item 12.2).

The authors also note that earlier discussions about how to address enrollment growth relied on a 2014 report that was prepared for the district by a demographics and planning firm and appears “to have–to some degree–issued projections for enrollment growth that were higher than what actual enrollment was in 2015-2016 and what our admissions office is currently projecting for 2016-2017.” No further details were provided about that report, which was not included as part of the agenda packet.

Staff would like to return to the board March 23 with refined cost estimates and projections, as well as more information on the fiscal impacts, possible location and facilities options, and timelines associated with the possibility of a new elementary school.

Tonight, Feb. 24, the board is expected to receive the report and give direction to staff about whether to come back March 23 with more detailed information.

BSEP meetings kick off Thursday

In other school news, community members are invited to join in several upcoming “Community Conversations” about the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP), the local special tax measure that’s been in effect since 1986 and is up for renewal in November. It provides for smaller class sizes, music programs, school libraries, technology and more. The measure represents nearly 20% of Berkeley public schools funding.

Five events are coming up. The first is a 2-hour-long budget workshop at the School District Board Room at 1231 Addison St. on Thursday, Feb. 25, from 7-9 p.m. It “will go into somewhat more detail” on BSEP budgets and programs, organizers say, than the shorter and more informal events being hosted afterward at schools across the district. Find further information and RSVP.

Additional events are planned for March 2 at the Berkeley High School library (7-8:30 p.m.); March 10 in the Rosa Parks Elementary School Multipurpose Room (7-8:30 p.m.); March 14 in the Malcolm X Elementary School Library (4-5:30 p.m.); and March 15 in Spanish in the LeConte Elementary School Library (7-8:30 p.m.). RSVP are not required, but can help plan for seating.

The BSEP Planning and Oversight (P&O) Committee also holds open meetings at which it reviews budget reports and plans, “and the public is always welcome,” organizers say. “Subcommittee meetings on major purposes of the BSEP measure are also great opportunities to share your ideas about BSEP programs such as Music, Libraries, Technology, and Parent Outreach.” Those who are interested can email for more information.

Read more schools coverage on Berkeleyside. See the complete agenda for the Feb. 24 meeting. Learn more about Berkeley’s elementary schools and the Berkeley School Board on the BUSD website.

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Board primer: Campus racism, Thousand Oaks portables, help for ‘high-need’ students (01.13.16)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...