Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) submitted a preliminary non-binding list of 6.6 million dollars in budget cuts for the 2022-23 school year to The Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE).
The cuts are the result of a drop in enrollment of 600 students in BUSD. The ACOE required several school districts that experienced a decrease in enrollment to submit a list by December 15th, BUSD being one of them.
Aaron Glimme is a chemistry teacher at Berkeley High School (BHS) and a member of the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP), which manages BUSD’s budget and provides 20 percent of funding for Berkeley Public Schools. He said that he is curious as to where the 600 students who left BUSD went.
“[I wonder] how many people have sort of permanently transferred to private schools,” he said. “That’s where we imagine that they’ve gone.”
He also said that because of higher vaccination rates in younger students due to the recent approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for five through eleven-year-olds, there may be more future students in BUSD elementary schools, which have seen the sharpest decline in enrollment.
While there was a decline of students in other BUSD schools, more students were enrolled at BHS than previously estimated by BUSD for the 2021-22 school year.
BHS principal Juan Raygoza said it was important for him to learn more about the budget cuts and how it would affect the students and staff of BHS.
“The first thing for me to think about is I have to learn more about why there [are] budget cuts, what the needs are from the state level, [the] local level, [and] from our district level,” he stated. “[I will] just try to become as informed as possible.”
The Berkeley High School Development Group (BHSDG) is a non-profit organization that helps to fund BHS by providing scholarships and tutoring programs through classroom teachers. Jenny Morgan, one of the co-presidents of BHSDG, said that BHSDG will help BHS during the budget cut.
“There’s definitely been an increased need in direct student support because I think more families are struggling as a result of COVID-19,” Morgan said. “We give a big chunk of money to the College and Career Center. They can give [support to] students in need [to] provide application fees so they can apply to more colleges.”
As part of the budget cuts, the BUSD school board considered reducing their spending on special education programs that rose in cost in the past three to four years.
“We have seen the cost rise in special education over the last three to four years, and so what we are looking at is as a way to reduce the overall cost of special education,” said Rubén Aurelio, the associate superintendent for Educational Services at BUSD. “[We won’t be] reducing services in any way. We have to provide the same services to students that are mandated by IEP’s (Individualized Education Programs). But, we are looking at building our own services and reducing how many of these services we contract out.”
At BUSD’s board meeting on November 17, the topic came up that planning budget cuts in the middle of the school year is unusual, so not all decisions are finalized. Glimme said it will be a while before all the details are known. He emphasized that not all of the decisions that have been made are final.
“There’s a lot of moving pieces, and we really need to wait and see what the state does, which typically happens at the end of February [or] March,” said Glimme.
Other propositions included cutting 10 percent of Teachers on Special Assignment (TSA).
“I’ve seen a lot of value that [the TSA] bring,” Raygoza said.“They have a capacity to support multiple sites … and so it would be difficult to [lose them].”
Morgan said BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens seeks the opinions of BUSD staff regarding the budget cuts.
“We definitely get to have some influence … so that’s appreciated,” Morgan said. “The superintendent isn’t just like, making cuts, you know, with no input. He’s definitely seeking input from all interested groups in the Berkeley school community.”
Although not all the information is known yet and adjustments are still being made, Raygoza said he is doing his best to support BHS students and staff.
“I just want students to know that I’m doing my very best to advocate for those budget cuts to not impact our students’ learning, our teachers, and our staff members coming and working at BHS,” Raygoza explained.