BUSD first days back at school September 2015. Photo: Mark Coplan
BSEP funds ensure smaller class sizes, particularly in lower grades. Photo: Mark Coplan
BSEP funds ensure smaller class sizes, particularly in lower grades. Photo: Mark Coplan

Berkeley Schools’ local parcel tax — BSEP — which provides 20% of the school district’s budget, will be on the ballot this November for the first approval in 10 years. The district is organizing a series of “community conversations” about BSEP starting tonight, Thursday, to engage and inform parents. (Scroll down for details.)

“BSEP is a huge way that our Berkeley community supports public education,” said school board president Beatriz Leyva-Cutler. “It’s a direct way that our taxpayers have shown their commitment to Berkeley schools.”

BSEP, the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project, was created in 1986 in response to cuts in state education funding following the 1978 passage of Proposition 13. BSEP has been renewed and expanded with voter support in 1994, 2004 and 2006. The 2006 approval merged two separate taxes into one with support of nearly 80% of voters. This year’s measure, which will probably be agreed by the school board in June, will require a two-thirds supermajority vote to pass. 

“Berkeley is unusual in the way we’ve stepped up,” said Natasha Beery, BUSD director of BSEP and community relations. “It continues to provide Berkeley students with what a lot of people think are essentials.”

Nearly two-thirds of BSEP funding provides smaller class sizes, expanded courses and counseling. The funding also provides 100% of school library funding, 95% of arts and music in grades 3-8, and funds for professional development.

“BSEP isn’t just one thing,” Beery said. “People often oversimplify and call BSEP enrichment. Those were the things people were trying to restore [in 1986]. Over the years it has morphed into becoming a whole smörgåsbord of essentials that the general fund hasn’t been able to provide.”

The 2006 measure largely specifies the areas in which BSEP funds can be spent, Beery said. Oversight for that spending is led by parents and community members on the Planning & Oversight Committee, which meets regularly to review implementation of BSEP spending, ensure compliance with the measure, and make recommendations to the school board for use of the funds.

Although the campaign for new BSEP approval will only kick off following the measure approval this summer, Leyva-Cutler is optimistic about the chances.

“I was at the Solano Stroll at the Berkeley Unified booth and I had loads of people who said to me, ‘It’s the best thing that has happened to our schools. I’ll vote for it,’” she said.

The first BSEP community conversation is tonight from 7-9 p.m. in the School Board Room at 1231 Addison St. There are four other meetings in March at different school sites.

Berkeley School Board to consider new elementary school campus; BSEP tax measure meetings kick off Thursday (02.24.16)

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...