Berkeley district votes to fund at-risk edible programs

Kids eat the fruits of their labor at Berkeley's Malcolm X Elementary School. Photo: Rivka Mason

Late last night, the Berkeley Unified School District School Board voted to authorize funding up to $350,000 for three elementary schools — Malcolm XRosa Parks, and Washington — that were in danger of losing their gardening and cooking programs for the next school year.

The move came as welcome news for all those involved in the programs and anyone who champions teaching children to eat, grow, and cook their greens.

“The Board showed a remarkable commitment to edible education by continuing to fund the garden and cooking programs at Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and Washington next year,” said Leah Sokolofski, who supervises the program for the district. “The decision is dependent on the district receiving Network for a Healthy California funding. We are still waiting for more information to be released about the Network funding. The district’s current Network contract continues through September 30, 2012.”

Board member Leah Wilson made the motion and the final vote was 4-1, with the no vote cast by Josh Daniels, who wanted the Board to explore funding the programs at a scaled-down level, as a cost-saving measure, while still maintaining the core components of the program.

“I was also concerned that the decision would put the long-term health of the District’s meals program in jeopardy,” Daniels told Berkeleyside. “The $350,000 is being taken from funds that would go to our meals program [Meals for the Needy], potentially forcing the meals programs to use up to almost half of its reserves in 2012-13.” [Clarification: the funds will be taken from Meals for the Needy’s surplus budget.]

The cooking and gardening programs at the three schools, whose combined budgets are $372,000, were threatened because, under existing guidelines, they no longer qualify for federal monies as each of the schools has fewer than 50% of its students enrolled in the free and reduced-lunch program. BUSD school garden and cooking programs are funded through September 2012 through Network for a Healthy California, a state program that distributes federal monies to local school districts through a three-year grant. The network seeks to improve the health of low-income Californians through increased fruit and vegetable consumption and daily activity. [Clarification: BUSD is waiting to hear about the state’s allocations of federal funding for the next three years. It made the decision to find funds for the three at-risk schools on the assumption its guidelines regarding the free and reduced-lunch program percentage cut-offs remain unchanged.]

In addition to the three schools whose funding was in jeopardy, the schools that currently receive federal funds for gardening and cooking instruction include Emerson, John Muir, Le Conte, and Thousand OaksBerkeley Arts Magnet, Cragmont, Jefferson, and Oxford fail to meet the criteria for these monies under current guidelines.

Earlier, the School Board had proposed offering funding of $300,000 spread over two years, with $150,000 earmarked the first year for the three schools about to lose gardening and cooking programs in the 2012-2013 school year, and a further $50,000 to four BUSD elementary schools who currently do not have such programs at all. But a vocal group calling itself the Berkeley Schools Gardening and Cooking Alliance wrote to the board in advance of last night’s meeting to make a case for why such funding would be both insufficient and ineffective.

“We ask that the Board consider allocating as much as possible to help us bridge this gap so we can keep these long-established, fully-integrated, successful programs going uninterrupted in as close to their present forms as possible for 2012-2013,” the letter reads. “We are seeking bridge funds for this one year only. We understand that any funds from the Board would be a one-time expenditure from a reserve fund rather than on-going structural support. And we are committed to using the coming year to work with the District and the larger Berkeley community to develop long-term, sustainable funding strategies for a district-wide programmatic approach for all elementary and middle schools who want to participate in these programs.”

For now, the alliance — made up of parents and community members — are celebrating this temporary reprieve. “We are of course extremely grateful to the School Board for giving us this lifeline, and the time it provides us to better execute a plan to save the gardening and cooking programs long-term,” said Malcolm X parent Joshua Room.  “This will give us time to focus on corporate, community, individual donors and grants.” He added: “And we want to continue to work with the District over this next year, and in the years following, to protect these programs and to make similar programs available to all of the students in Berkeley.”

Sarah Henry is the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Related:
Community seeks life support for school edible programs [03.30.12]
Berkeley school district cuts to tackle $3m deficit [03.28.12]
Berkeley school gardening, cooking face cuts [03.23.12]

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  • TizziLish

    Praise goddess.  It’s nice to read this good news.

  • Greenthumb

    Too bad that the Board couldn’t decide to go with giving to ALL of the schools who have lost this funding over the years. My children are at one of those schools and our little volunteer parent group could have done much with 50k! Hired a garden/cooking instructor for example to enable our hard work in garden to be applied in the curriculum. We work our hearts out with blood and sweat and tears but I guess the squeaky wheels got the grease.  Had we known it was possible to get ay funding, we would have been present at the board meeting to speak up. Sour grapes? Sadly, yes.

  • Bruce Love

    This seems pretty alarming, but I’m not sure what it means in context:

    “I was also concerned that the decision would put the long-term health
    of the District’s meals program in jeopardy,” Daniels told
    Berkeleyside. “The $350,000 is being taken from funds that would go to
    our meals program [Meals for the Needy], potentially forcing the meals
    programs to use up to almost half of its reserves in 2012-13.”

    I want to make sure that I understand.    I think this is saying that the district has programs to help make sure poor kids don’t starve.    Those programs have some financial cushion.    Half of the financial cushion is going to be used up in 2012-13 not on those kids, but on a prestigious school-wide program.   And only a single school board member voted against this plan.

    There’s a chance that a state grant will come through, and that financial cushion can be restored.   So, the board majority is, in effect, gambling with the money held in reserve to keep poor kids from going hungry, hoping to win funds for a school-wide program.   And, again, only a single board member objected.

    Is that actually what’s being said there?

  • Tor

    Indeed. My kids’ school’s gardening program is funded by our PTA to the tune of $500 a year. 

  • EBGuy

    GT,
    I don’t know.  I’m still trying to parse this sentence by Leah Sokolofski:
    “The decision is dependent on the district receiving Network for Healthy California funding.”   I don’t see how that happens unless the lottery folks work some magic.
    FWIW, it looks like they will try to establish a program for all schools in the future.

  • Greenthumb

    It’s difficult to understand what is going on but it seems to me that this board has taken “touchy-feely” good vibes to the extent of unfair/unequal distribution of funding throughout the district. They give to some and care little about others. Keep in mind that all of the schools are in the zone system – no school is more “advantaged” than others per say – that is how it is set up by the district. Equal and fair for all…. But not really.

    Meanwhile they are voting on giving 1/2 time parent/family liaisons (20 hours per week at each school site) to only 6 of the schools for the next two years, and the same 4 schools that are being left out in the cold from the gardening & cooking program will have no parent liaison to help them in their schools. What gives?

  • Busdfamilia

    Jefferson’s garden is about to buried under a construction zone!

  • Guest

    I share your discontent.  I’ve spent the last 6 years on the fundraising committee for one of those 4 schools, writing letters, making phone calls, standing in front of Safeway for hours to gather receipts, co-chairing the auction . . . it goes on and on.  We lost our qualification for federal money about four years ago, and the district told us to suck it up.  So I agree with you: what gives?  It’s great that BUSD schools have become more and more equal along socioeconomic lines.  But that means that there’s no strong argument to give garden support funds only those schools that used to be more impoverished. 

  • EBGuy

    I’m certainly not going to argue there isn’t a bias in their voting and,
    without a doubt, the parents of kids at the targeted schools were able
    to marshal their resources to affect the outcome.  Don’t worry, though,
    I’ll be sure to show up next year with an outstretched hand if you folks
    do as well.  The fact remain that these three schools are located in
    the most impoverished areas of their respective zones.  It’s not without
    effort (and, of course,  the lottery) that they were able to retain a majority of
    free/reduced lunch ineligible students.  I don’t blame the board for not
    wanting to immediately dismantle the extensive gardening and cooking
    programs that had been set up.  Short of adding a ‘geographic bias’
    element to the lottery, though, I do think the writing is on the wall. 

  • BerkeleyCommonSense

     It’s not so alarming if you consider that the reason that the original gardening funds are going away is because there are fewer children in need of free or reduced lunch.

  • Bruce Love

    No, I think you’re mistaken.  This bit:

    because there are fewer children in need of free or reduced lunch.

    http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us/App_Resx/EdDataClassic/fsTwoPanel.aspx?#!bottom=/_layouts/EdDataClassic/profile.asp?Tab=1&level=06&reportnumber=16

    Here are some numbers of BUSD students participating in the free/reduced lunch program:

    2008-2009:  3,503
    2009-2010:  3,769
    2010-2011:  4,131

    The percentages at some schools have fallen but the total number appears to be climbing.

  • deirdre

    Hm.  This is quite confounding.  Could there be more than one data set for free/reduced lunch status?  Because we’ve been hearing for some time now that by and large the free/reduced lunch percentages are dropping across the district.

    I know that one challenge at the start of the school year is always getting all the forms collected from parents regarding economic status and other questions.  Schools need to submit forms from every family, every year, but I’m sure that we don’t get 100% of families reporting.  So this would throw numbers off a little bit. 

  • Guest

     Edit: this was meant as a reply to Bruce Love’s post on free/reduced lunch statistics.

  • Bruce Love

    This is quite confounding.  Could there be more than one data set for free/reduced lunch status?  Because we’ve been hearing for some time now that by and large the free/reduced lunch percentages are dropping across the district.

    As a percentage of the district, the number of students using free/reduced lunch programs has increased over those same three years,

    2008-2009:  39.0%
    2009-2010:  40.9%
    2010-2011:  43.6%

    In these articles about the garden programs, it has only been asserted that the percentage at some schools has fallen, slightly.   Of course, if there are 43.6% of the kids using this program, not every school will have the same percentage, and the percentage in each school will vary each year.

    So:

    Because we’ve been hearing for some time now that by and large the free/reduced lunch percentages are dropping across the district.

    Where did you hear that?  Perhaps there was a misunderstanding.

  • EBGuy

     As I noted in the thread last week, eligibility for reduced/free lunches is around 49.95% in the ELEMENTARY schools.  Its slightly above 50% in the MIDDLE schools.  I arrived at the elementary school figures by taking total eligible (the figures noted by BL) and subtracting HS and MS eligibles.  A more correct figure could be arrived at by summing up all the elementary schools individually.  I swear, people think I’m joking, but what we are seeing, more than any perceived demographics, is that the LOTTERY IS WORKING more EFFECTIVELY.  Instead of bulges of poorer students at some schools, socioeconomically challenged students are being more evenly distributed across all schools.  Here’s a case of a marginal school, Washington.  The big push for free/reduced lunches happened in 2006-7.  Washington’s student population was 309, with 156  (50.5%) students eligible for free/reduced lunches.  For the 2010-11 school year, the total student population at Washington had risen to 370 students, with 177 (47.8%) students eligible for free/reduced lunches.
    Since I’m on a roll we’ll also look at Malcom X.  In 2006-07, Malcolm X’s student population was 385, with 208  (54.0%) students
    eligible for free/reduced lunches.  For the 2010-11 school year, the
    total student population at Malcolm X had risen to 437 students, with 225 (51.5%)
    students eligible for free/reduced lunches.
    And I just ran the ELEMENTARY school numbers for 2006-7 using the method outlined above.  Free/reduced lunch eligibility at all elementary schools stood at 49.1% six years ago, so the percentage of students eligible of free/reduced lunches has RISEN slightly over the past six years.  Note that figures are not available for the 2011-12 school year.

  • EBGuy

    At this point you may be asking yourself where the socioeconomically challenged students went (comparisons are between 2006-7 school year and 2010-11 school year).
    Free/reduced lunch eligible students at:
    John Muir went from 124 students (50.4%) to 142 (58.7%)
    Thousand Oaks went from 218 students (50.7%) to 237 (52.3%)
    Jefferson went from 99 students (34.9%) to 137 (45.4%)
    Oxford went from 114 students (40.7%) to 137 (46.8%)
    BAM went from 159 students (41.4%) to 199 (48.8%)
    One thing to keep in mind is that total enrollment at many of these schools has increased (John Muir actually saw a decline).

  • Guest

    I really appreciate your various postings.  And, I would agree: the lottery does work in terms of distribution, at least at the elementary level (I can’t speak firsthand about middle).  I have the impression that the overall desirability of our schools has definitely equalized as well within the lottery system (at least for most of the elementary schools).

  • EBGuy

     FWIW, here’s what free/reduced lunch eligibility looks like at the MIDDLE schools (2010-11):
    King: 436 students (45.2%) out of 965
    Willard: 285 students (52.6%) out of 542
    Longfellow: 251 students (61.5%) out of 408

    Total MIDDLE school students eligible for free/reduced lunches is 50.8%