Students walk to class at Longfellow Middle School. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Berkeley Unified schools are back in session on Aug. 29, but the Berkeley School Board is ending its summer break with a meeting tonight, Wednesday, Aug. 23.  On the agenda: approval of a range of contracts for school services, counseling and special education placements; a slideshow recap of 2016-17; the possible development of housing for teachers; a new staff union contract; bigger budget cuts in the near future; and more.

Here are some of the highlights.

HOUSING FOR TEACHERS For months, as housing costs have soared across the Bay Area, causing teacher shortages in several districts, BUSD has discussed developing housing for its employees. The state’s Teacher Housing Act of 2016 allows districts use their property to offer affordable rental housing exclusively to employees. A new staff report on the agenda for discussion tonight suggests a few funding sources that could be tapped for the project, including county affordable housing dollars, a possible new district bond measure, state tax credits, city funds and more. The new analysis also puts forth potential locations for new housing. Staff suggest West Campus, the district maintenance facility at Oregon and Russell streets, the Berkeley Adult School parking lot and the Berkeley High tennis courts. See item 15.1 for details.

BIGGER BUDGET CUTS The School Board is set to approve a new budget cut target level tonight. In February, staff set an initial reduction target of $1.5 million for 2018-19. The projected level of deficit spending that year is now higher than first predicted, so staff are recommending bumping the cut level to $1.8 million. The now $2.4 million projected deficit is due in part, according to the district report, to raises and higher preparation time in the teacher union contract, increases in employer pension contributions and special education costs, the Berkeley High School redesign and other new expenses. While that leaves more than a half-million dollar deficit next year, the district is expecting higher enrollment and other possible new revenue streams. However, “budget reductions for 2019-20 will also most likely be needed,” according to the district. See item 16.1 for details.

UNION CONTRACTS The School Board is set to approve a tentative agreement with the Union of Berkeley Administrators, the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. The 2017-19 contract would give union members a one-time bonus of 1% in 2017-18 and a 1% raise the following year, and possibly a bit more depending on state revenue, according to the staff report. The bonus and raise amounts mirror those in the new teacher union contract. With district costs outpacing state revenue, the modest raises in that contract were what the district said it was able to provide, to the satisfaction union leadership, which also negotiated for more preparation time for elementary school teachers. Many teachers, however, facing the rising cost of living in the area, said the raises were unacceptably low. See items 16.3 and 16.4 for details.

ENROLLMENT DOWN IN 2016-2017 Berkeley schools weathered a significant drop in enrollment — and thus funding — between 2015-16 and 2016-17. Across the district, enrollment decreased by 152 students last year, and average daily attendance (the metric for state funding) by 129 students, according to an annual report in the package for tonight’s School Board meeting. The attendance-to-enrollment ratio stayed about the same over the past two years, however. Per the district’s calculations, enrollment and attendance decreased the most at Berkeley High and Cragmont Elementary, whereas there were increases at both Willard Middle School and Washington Elementary. See item 17.1 for details.

Meeting details

The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education generally meets twice monthly on Wednesdays at 2020 Bonar St. The entrance to the board chambers is around the corner on Addison Street. There is a large parking lot around the corner from Addison Street, on Browning Street.

The regular meeting is set to begin by 7:30 p.m. Public comment is limited to 30 minutes, with a 3-minute limit per speaker. Public comment takes place at the beginning and end of the meeting, rather than in response to each item.

Meetings are televised live on Berkeley Community Media channel 33, and rebroadcast the following Thursday at 9 a.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Meetings are also recorded for radio and played after the meeting on KPFB 89.3 FM. They are also streamed live, and posted online after the meeting. Other BUSD-related videos are posted on Youtube.

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Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...