renovations underway at Oxford Elementary School

Some relief from state budget cuts

Berkeley Unified School District is no longer facing budget cuts in the range of $7-$8M, due to changes in the state legislature, but it will still have to weather $3-$4M in reductions for the upcoming school year due to a 0% cost of living adjustment provided by the state, and early estimates of increased spending due to COVID-19.

This figure is in addition to a $1.3M cut previously approved by BUSD. Outgoing President Judy Appel called the situation “not-so-dire,” but said the district will still have to make difficult choices. Cuts will be within the “tier one” category, which includes selective hiring freezes, furloughs for some administrators, staff overtime, the Gardening and Cooking program, substitute teaching and nutrition services.

“Level funding is not the same as level service, and it does mean that we’re still experiencing contractions,” Superintendent Brent Stephens told Berkeleyside. “However it is far better than the roughly seven and a half million dollar budget reduction that we thought we were facing only a month ago.”

BUSD will not be laying off classified staff in nutrition, transportation or custodial work, and there will be no summer layoffs of classified employees. In its budget plans for next year, BUSD also included $277,000 in funding for its Resolution for Black Lives Matter and the related COVID-19 equity fund.

Resolution to re-envision police presence in schools

Board members unanimously passed a resolution during their July 1 meeting to “Re-Envision Police-Free Schools.” Berkeley High currently has one school resource offer from Berkeley police, funded by the city, who also works at Berkeley Technology Academy.

The resolution was introduced by board members Julie Sinai and Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, and will set in motion community discussions over the presence of Berkeley police at Berkeley schools, and potential alternatives to policing, including restorative practices, cultural competency training, violence prevention and behavioral health and enrichment activities.

“While we have a clear intent that we want to move toward police-free schools, we really feel like it would be a shortcoming not to engage the students of our schools, particularly our Black and brown students, the teachers the staff and the families,” Sinai said. “Know that it’s really the first step for us re-envisioning and reimagining the police presence but also securing public safety on our campus.”

Because BUSD does not directly pay for the school resource officer, they will be working with the city to follow through with any changes.

Oxford School renovations ongoing

Renovations at Oxford Elementary School’s new West Campus are ongoing during the pandemic and expected to be complete by the start of the next school year in August. The move from 1130 Oxford St. to 2020 Bonar St., the former home of REALM Charter School, was initiated last fall due to safety concerns that the schoolhouse could move up to 20 feet if struck by a serious earthquake.

Administrators went on a tour in late June to check out the renovations, which include a large new library, sinks, carpeting and paint. It will eventually also have an artificial turf field, two playgrounds, an outdoor learning area, a “peace path” and “enchanted forest,” both outdoors, a garden area and a sundial.

Fire causes minor damage to BUSD district office

the front of the BUSD building with firetrucks nearby
Berkeley firefighters put out a blaze that started in a portable toilet outside the BUSD building at 2020 Bonar St. on July 3, 2020. Photo: Ethan Lasiewski Credit: Ethan Lasiewski

A fire at the BUSD district office on Friday, June 3 damaged the building’s exterior and has temporarily closed down the admissions office, according to public information officer Trish McDermott.

Firefighters responded to the building, at 2020 Bonar St., at 5:31 p.m. and found a small blaze in a Port-O-Potty bathroom against the west side wall of the office, Berkeley fire spokesman Keith May said. Heat from the fire broke a window on the first floor and caused minor heat and smoke damage to the interior and part of the hallway.

No one was injured and the building was turned over to BUSD maintenance personnel.

Meals available through summer

image of potatoes, carrots and peas in produce bins
BUSD has harvested 350 pounds of produce so far from BUSD gardens to make meals for students during COVID-19. Photo: BUSD Credit: BUSD

Grab-and-go meals are available to students aged 18 or younger throughout the summer. Pickups are available at six distribution sites — Washington and Rosa Parks elementary schools, Longfellow, Willard and Martin Luther King Jr. middle schools, and Berkeley High — on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. More information is available online.

The program, which will run through Aug. 14, has served 70,000 meals since school facilities closed due to the pandemic, according to BUSD.

The BUSD Gardening and Cooking Program is also operating a food pantry with Berkeley Food Network on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month from 2:30-4 p.m. at Berkeley Technology Academy, 2701 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The next food pantry is on July 14, and community members can pick up fresh produce, protein, eggs, frozen prepared foods and packaged goods. All visitors are asked to wear a mask during pickups.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct authors of the resolution to re-envision police-free schools. It previously said the author was board member Ka’Dijah Brown, who amended the document.

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Supriya Yelimeli is a housing and homelessness reporter for Berkeleyside and joined the staff in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and...