Photograph by Claire Dresser

The Berkeley School Board is considering cuts to many Berkeley High School (BHS) programs, including cutting the Independent Study (IS) coordinator and administrative assistant positions, and housing the program under the same administrator as Berkeley Technology Academy (BTA). The decision will be voted upon on December 6th. However, there are many flaws in the proposed cuts, and much of the IS community has not been consulted and is unaware of the issue.

The cuts should be tabled and moved to the January meeting, as more information and involvement of the students, parents, and teachers affected are necessary in order for the correct decisions to be made. The current budget estimates are worst-case scenario, and the district will be much better able to evaluate its financial situation in January, when the governor’s revised budget and enrollment report will become available.

Not only are the proposed cuts financially under-informed, they are also functionally under-informed: IS is multifaceted. Our full-time coordinator supervises Berkeley’s Assisted K-8 Homeschooling Program, the Home and Hospital Program for students medically unable to attend school, the Herrick Hospital Program for students with severe mental health issues, and the 9-12 Independent Study Program. Such oversight requires our coordinator to work at full capacity, and it is unlikely that even the most capable of administrators could possibly serve the diverse needs of both IS and BTA.

Some of the most important responsibilities of the IS coordinator are connecting with students, helping with college applications, accessing resources, and simply being there as a trusted adult. Seven years ago the district reduced the IS coordinator position to half-time. When it became clear that the arrangement was unsustainable, the district reinstated the position as full-time. Moreover, when budget cuts mandated that IS move to a quarter as opposed to a semester system, former Superintendent Michele Lawrence promised that IS would always have a full-time coordinator due to the impact of such a measure. These proposals are ignorant of past attempts to cut costs at IS and do not consider the needs of students and teachers.

Lack of administrative assistant training has, in the past, caused a noncompliance audit that cost the district a quarter of a million dollars. Moreover, if they were cut to half time, teachers would be compelled to fill the paperwork gap, taking their time and energy away from student instruction.

Much is at stake under these proposed cuts, which include cutting several safety officers and counselors from IS, BTA, and BHS campuses. What is often glossed over is the deeply positive impact that IS teachers and staff can have on students’ education.

I am proud to apply to colleges with IS listed as my small school. I will be doing so with a letter of recommendation from Ms. Weber, the IS coordinator and my guidance counselor, who has helped me immensely with the admissions process and I feel truly knows me. I only hope that when I leave for college, students like me can benefit from the IS program just as much as I have.