The Berkeley Unified school board approved a $190.8 million budget — its largest ever — for the 2022-23 school year at a meeting Wednesday night. About $17 million more is expected to come through with approval from the legislature later this summer.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s historic budget proposal poured unprecedented funds into K-12 schools and colleges, bringing a 13% increase in education funding to help schools deal with problems like soaring inflation costs and staffing shortages. As a result, Berkeley Unified saw its revenue grow by about $22.5 million year over year, largely from the big increase in state funds as well as an additional $4.4 million from local dollars.

A breakdown of its $191 million dollar budget for 2022-23. Credit: BUSD

Rising funds meant district leaders had their pick of new programs and initiatives. Here’s where some of the additional funds are going next year:

• Hiring a new vice principal of wellness and school climate at Berkeley High ($150,000), a counselor dedicated to working with homeless students ($150,000) and a literacy coach at Longfellow Middle School ($110,000)

Read the entire proposal of how the district will spend additional funds here.

• The development of a district-wide climate-literacy curriculum ($112,200).

• Hiring a safety coordinator who will, among other things, strengthen the district’s gun violence preparedness ($115,000).

• Contracts for two consultants who will monitor and help implement the Dyslexia Action Plan ($350,000), a plan designed to improve how the district teaches reading, required by a settlement agreement signed by BUSD and families who sued the district.

But the largest increases in planned spending are still being discussed.

Under direction from the Alameda County Office of Education, BUSD did not include in its adopted budget about $17 million in state funds that were, at the time, contested in the legislature. Now, it looks like those funds, and potentially more, will come through. Here’s a tentative list for how those funds will be spent:

  • Hiring another middle school family engagement and equity specialist ($90,000) and a second vice principal for Longfellow Middle School ($130,000) for next year only.
  • Providing additional support for Black students ($275,000 per year), Latino students ($100,000 per year) and English language learners ($120,000 per year).
  • Making counseling available to students making complaints with the Title IX office ($65,000) and hiring an intervention counselor for Berkeley High ($110,000).
  • A range of other expenses, such as a new math curriculum, tools for mechanics and scanning historical student and employee records.

Plus, a pay raise for teachers is not included in this budget: BUSD has not finished negotiating with its teachers’ union, which is asking for a pay hike for teachers to keep pace with inflation.

Over the last ten years, BUSD’s total revenues and expenditures have risen together. The district spent more money than it generated by $8.4 in 2020-21 and by $4 million in 2021-22. It remains to be seen whether the district will break even this year.

The budget has grown alongside the cost of living, but per student spending has risen, too. Even after adjusting for inflation, BUSD is expected to spend more money next year than ever before, when you include the $17 million in pending state funds.

Despite the massive budget surplus, the school board voted to make a handful of cuts totaling $3.3 million, including to its online learning program, Virtual Academy. It also reduced the number of teaching positions in 3rd through 5th grade at elementary schools with declining enrollment.

These cuts made room for the new programs and additional hires listed above.

Both these decisions received pushback from families, who rallied to keep a beloved 5th grade teacher at his post and spoke at school board meetings to preserve the virtual learning program.

The district ended Virtual Academy, a one-year online learning program serving 39 students, at the end of the school year. The board voted 3-2 to end the program, with Babitt, Alper and Vasudeo voting to cut it and Brown and Sinai voting to keep the program one more year.

The district initially proposed cuts to elementary school positions in multiple schools with declining enrollment, shuffling the teachers to roles at other schools with open positions. But the board ultimately voted 4-1 to keep teachers in kindergarten through 2nd grade and cut the 3rd through 5th grade teachers. Alper voted against the decision, saying that it was fiscally responsible to downsize its teaching force as enrollment shrinks.

The district will issue a revised budget in August, after the governor's budget is finalized.

Featured photo: Pete Rosos

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Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...