The Bonar Street headquarters of the Berkeley Unified School District. File photo: Kaia Diringer

Three of the five seats on the Berkeley school board are up for election this fall.

Six candidates — Ka’Dijah Brown, Mike Chang, Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos, Norma Harrison, Reichi Lee and Jennifer Shanoski — are competing for the three spots. The other two seats on the board will be up for election in 2024.

In Berkeley, school board directors are elected at-large, which means you can cast votes for your top three candidates, regardless of where you live in the city.

The five board directors, elected to four-year terms, are tasked with giving guidance on the direction of the school district. They work closely with the superintendent, provide feedback on district decisions and budget, and pass their own policies and resolutions.

For example, in the last year, the school board unanimously voted to overhaul the district’s middle school enrollment policy beginning in 2023, passed a policy outlining appropriate conduct between students and teachers and weighed in on the district’s COVID-19 mitigation policies.

The candidates for this race have been campaigning since the spring: You have likely seen more lawn signs for school board than for City Council around Berkeley. Candidates have already raised over $48,000 in campaign contributions, according to city campaign finance records.

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Brown is the only incumbent running, after Julie Sinai and Ty Alper announced they would not run for re-election in the spring.

This year will be the first year that school board candidates can opt into public financing, a system that became available for City Council and mayoral races in 2018. Under this system, candidates can receive a maximum of $60 from any individual, and each donation is matched six-fold by the city of Berkeley.

We’ll be publishing in-depth stories in the lead-up to Nov. 8, but we’re kicking off election season with short introductions to each of the candidates — presented here in alphabetical order.

Meet the school board candidates

  • Ka’Dijah Brown is the current president of the school board and a sixth grade teacher at a charter school in Vallejo.
  • Mike Chang, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, ran for school board two years ago in 2020. Chang also chairs Berkeley’s Police Accountability Board.
  • Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos is the co-director of an education company that provides tutoring and other academic support. She is also a special education advocate.
  • Norma Harrison is a community advocate with the Communist Party and Democratic Socialists of America. A perennial school board candidate, Harrison runs on a platform critiquing the traditional school system.
  • Reichi Lee is an attorney who serves on the board of directors at a children’s law office and held two administrative roles at the Golden Gate University School of Law. She is also on the city’s Peace and Justice Commission.
  • Jennifer Shanoski is the president of the Peralta Federation of Teachers and a chemistry professor at Merritt College. She is also the vice-chair of Berkeley’s Commission on the Status of Women.

All but two of the candidates (Brown and Harrison) have children attending BUSD schools.

The race was originally between seven candidates, but went down to six after Mara Kolesas dropped out of the race Aug. 16.

“Given the history of our school board elections, announced endorsements, and donations, I have decided not to run this year,” Kolesas wrote in an email to supporters. Kolesas described her chances of victory as “slim (if any),” explaining that she could not in good conscience ask people to devote more time and resources to her campaign.

Early voting for the 2022 election begins Oct. 10, which is also when you can start returning your vote-by-mail ballot. Election Day is Nov. 8.

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,...