Photograph by Nina Smith

On January 10, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) Board of Education unanimously approved a proposition to restructure Berkeley Technology Academy (BTA) and Independent Study (IS).

Former Berkeley High School (BHS) Principal and current Associate Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi proposed that the district have one administrator run both of these programs. The proposal intended for the BTA and IS to have a combined enrollment of approximately two hundred students.

The proposal would allow for each program to retain its clerical support and suggested that this decision be re-evaluated, after implementation, in winter 2018.

The proposal would also keep the current counselor at BTA and have them serve IS students as well. In addition, one of two safety officer positions between the two schools would be cut, with the intention of allowing for the district to cut fewer safety officer positions elsewhere, such as at BHS.

BUSD has had its budget expand slowly but surely for years. This year, however, BUSD is making $1.8 million of budget cuts, which have been attributed to a lack of state funding to match the increase in funding for teachers’ pensions required by the state.

The BTA and IS restructuring was one of several proposals to decrease costs. Part of why BHS has struggled with over enrollment this year is that many of the school’s students who the district expected to attend BTA this fall elected to stay at BHS.

Therefore, funding intended for these students who had been directed to BTA was misplaced. This restructuring would allocate some of these resources to BHS in order to best support these students.

The approval of this proposal should lighten the responsibilities of the Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC), which would have had to consider further cuts if the Board had not approved the proposal. In addition, the district will now initiate the process of hiring the proposed administrator for BTA and IS and finalize any changes in the schools’ curriculum or programming.

Scuderi said the proposal was made with consideration of budget problems in BUSD as well as program and enrollment problems at BTA. This was the third time Scuderi had brought the proposal to the Board since November 1, 2017. Scuderi described a proposal development timeline that stretched farther back from early 2017.

Despite reductions in staffing, the proposal will leave room for growth in enrollment numbers at BTA because the school’s current enrollment of sixty two falls far below its historic enrollment. Its enrollment in the 2011-12 school year was 136. Scuderi also stated that while BTA is functionally a continuation high school, the district has not labeled it as such, and doing so would allow for more constructive restructuring in its curriculum and programs.

On January 10, Scuderi described to the Board the attributes of a continuation high school, including more flexibility with credentialing. “Your science teacher who may be a club soccer player on the weekend can now teach a PE class and help kids meet that unit need themselves,” explained Scuderi at the meeting.

In addition, since some continuation programs offer independent study options, Scuderi suggested that students in BTA might have the opportunity to take courses in IS, specifically a-g coursework that might not be available at BTA in the future due to restructuring. In turn, IS students would be able to access developing Career Technical Education courses at BTA.

As the restructuring moves forward, School Board Member Beatriz Leyva-Cutler suggested at some point articulating a vision for the BTA and IS programs, with community input. In her comments at the meeting, Leyva-Cutler said, “There’s different pathways for different students, and we’re committed to making sure that it’s individualized, at the same time meeting their needs and making sure that they are ready when they leave our schools.”

The proposal will not merge BTA and IS. IS will remain a learning community within BHS just as BTA will remain an alternative high school distinct from BHS, though its role as a continuation high school might be clarified.