Enrollment surge necessitates three new kindergartens

BUSD officials informed the principal of Rosa Parks Elementary School, Paco Furlan, just nine days ago that he would have to add another Kindergarten class. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

BUSD officials informed the principal of Rosa Parks Elementary School, Paco Furlan, just nine days ago that he would have to add another kindergarten class. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

So many new students have unexpectedly enrolled for kindergarten for the 2013-2014 school year that the Berkeley Unified School District has to add three new kindergarten classrooms.

BUSD has seen steady growth in enrollment in recent years and had projected for larger numbers of kindergarten students, but an additional 66 students unexpectedly signed up, according to a letter sent out this week and signed by Superintendent Donald Evans and Neil Smith, assistant superintendent for educational services.

In order to maintain a teacher-student ration of 20 to 1, BUSD will add kindergarten classes at three elementary schools: Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Cragmont, according to Smith. While all of Berkeley’s elementary schools are crowded, these three had extra space that could be spared for a new class, he said. Other elementary schools had already been loaded up with portable classrooms or seen computer labs and multi-purpose space converted into classrooms to accommodate more kindergartens.

The surge in enrollment has had staff and administrators at Rosa Parks scrambling. Principal Paco Furlan thought he was ready for the new school year when he got a call Aug. 7 informing him he needed to make space for a new kindergarten class. To accommodate 20 more students, Furlan orchestrated an elaborate set of moves to keep the all of the class levels together.

Cheyenne Ison and Nathalie O'Brien, both incoming sophomores at Berkeley High, have been helping move classrooms at Rosa Parks Elementary School to make room for an extra Kindergarten. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Cheyenne Ison and Nathalie O’Brien, both incoming sophomores at Berkeley High, have been helping move classrooms at Rosa Parks Elementary School to make room for an extra kindergarten. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Five classrooms had to be moved and reconfigured, and new desks, chairs and supplies had to be ordered, he said. The Rosa Parks PTA paid to bring in two Berkeley High students to help move materials. BUSD is paying for extra custodial time.

“When you are a teacher and you have been in a room for four or five years, you have a lot of stuff,” said Furlan.

Furlan also had to hire a new teacher.

The additional kindergarten class also means there will be more than 100 school children under the age of 6 at Rosa Parks, since there is a pre-K program there as well, said Jessica Wheelis, the president of the Rosa Parks PTA.

“It’s going to change the look of the school, it’s going to change the tenor of the school, and it might change where our PTA dollars are allocated,” she said.

Over the last six years, enrollment in Berkeley kindergartens has grown more than 36%, according to the school district. In 2007, there were 631 kindergarten students. In 2013, there will 862 students. (Students are still enrolling, according to the letter sent by Evans.)

The district attributes the growth to three main factors:

  •  “An increase in number of families choosing public over private and parochial schools for both economic and educational reasons.
  • Excellent teaching and a well-articulated curriculum in our vibrant school communities with strong family involvement; and
  •  The option of transitional kindergarten for young five year olds, as mandated by the State of California.”

Some community members believe enrollment fraud accounts for the large number of students enrolled in Berkeley schools. As one example of that, the Berkeley Accountable School Project (an anonymously run website)  has argued that there are more children enrolled in the school district than the 2010 census reports are living in Berkeley. The racial breakdown is also skewed, according to Berkeley Accountable Schools. For example, while 9% of Berkeley’s population is African-American according to the 2010 census, about 25% of the students enrolled in BUSD are African-American, according to Berkeley Accountable Schools.

Smith said he does not think the rise in kindergarten enrollees is due to fraud, although he acknowledged that fraud does exist. The district requires multiple proofs of residency for a student to be enrolled, he said. It also has someone whose job it is to randomly verify addresses.

Discrepancies between census and enrollment figures come, in part, because about 15% of Berkeley students have special permission to attend Berkeley schools. The students may live with a Berkeley-based caregiver during the week or have an out-of-district transfer, he said.

The number of homeless students has also increased by nearly 200% during the last seven years, according to school data. In 2006 there were 283 homeless students enrolled in BUSD. In 2012, there were 826 homeless students.

Rosa Parks Elementary School Principal Paco Furlan holds up a Kindergarten phonetics kit. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Rosa Parks Elementary School Principal Paco Furlan holds up a kindergarten phonetics kit. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

One parent of an incoming kindergarten student thinks the increased enrollment is a good thing. Vicki Davis, whose daughter will be entering one of the five kindergarten classes at Malcolm X, said that more children means more diversity and more classmates for her daughter to be with in elementary school. It also means there is a larger parent community to organize and volunteer for events.

“It’s really a good problem to have to open up a new kindergarten,” said Furlan, who has been the principal at Rosa Parks for four years. “We haven’t had enrollment like this in 25 to 30 years. It’s amazing and I think it speaks volumes about the good work we are doings at the schools.”

The first day of school for Berkeley public schools is Wednesday, Aug. 28.

Berkeleyside’s Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas is two days of provocative thinking, inspiring speakers, workshops, and a big party — all in downtown Berkeley in October. Read all about it, be part of it. Register on the Uncharted website.

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  • tor_berg

    Yes, I do. Also an active room parent. Also have a spouse on SGC and P&O. Also a property owner and taxpayer. I do believe I mentioned this earlier.

    I’m also confident enough in my opinion to post under my own name.

  • guest

    The enrollment fraud activists might stand a better chance, next time around. Berkeleyside treats BAS as a serious source and says they will do stories about individual cases of enrollment fraud. At the same time they say they probably can’t look into BAS’ central claims about the scope of the problem. If Berkeleyside is influential on this issue then BAS is gaining strength.

  • suckatash

    It has no traction because no one wants to look like a scrouge/racist/classist. You didn’t answer my question about how the rules don’t apply to those you approve of morally. But hey, continue to feel smug about how the local politics of hypocrisy is working for you. Enjoy.

  • guest

    this issue has no traction because the union calls anyone who tries to take up the issue a racist. more illegal transfers = more union jobs.

  • Guest

    Stories of kids who come as far as from HUMBOLDT COUNTY to fraudulently enroll at BHS:


  • Wtf


  • bgal4

    If voters were provided accurate information including budget impacts, academic results, discipline and truancy data, I think there would be a true debate of the merits of lax enrollment policies. Berkeley voters are low information voters on local issues, some would say trusting and apathetic, they pay attention to national issues, and ASSUME competency from incumbents. I now this very well having canvassed door to door on several campaigns. Most people did not know who their council member was or even the mayor.

  • Emily S Howard

    I’ve seen them at my house, the houses of friends,… Yes, they do check. You need a staff report? I didn’t have my camera.

  • Today’s Berkeleyside “wire” story list has one about the starting line for BHS football. The two star players mentioned in the story have online recruiting profiles on various sites. One is listed as Berkeley High, but with Oakland as a hometown; the other has Emeryville.

    Could be a clerical error on the recruiting site. Or our “home team” could be the French Foreign Legion of high school football.

  • 4eenie

    There’s a story for Berkeleyside to investigate!

  • bgal4

    what time of day did they arrive, who is they? Of course the board of directors should receive an annual staff report from the Attendance and Welfare office.

  • West Berkeley Neighbor

    I have to say I have the same experience as a room parent. And if I know a kid lives in Oakland or Richmond or wherever, I’m sure the school administrators know, too. This is a case of district policy/priorities, unstated as they may be.

    I sit on the fence, myself – I can understand the motivation of a family with few resources trying to give their child what we who live in Berkeley want for our children. But in my anecdotal experience, the out-of-district kids I’ve been aware of have disproportionately been the neediest in terms of behavior issues. I know, it’s all part of the same problem. But I draw the line at having an out-of-district kid taking way, way more than average share of BUSD’s resources. The stories last year about kids (one with a gun, if I recall?) at the continuation high school who were Oakland residents hit this nerve. How much, in resources, is a kid who’s ended up in the continuation high school using, in relation to average? How much has s/he used throughout his/her years in Berkeley schools? Why are Berkeley kids being shortchanged so that high-needs out-of-district kids can be given services? I know this is not a popular progressive viewpoint, but it is a valid objection. Do I object equally to the out-of-district valedictorian and the out-of-district gang-banger? No, I don’t. I’d love to see this addressed at BUSD, so they can continue to “look the other way” in regard to enrollment fraud, until/unless a kid becomes a behavior problem. Then eligibility should be examined and the kid should be appropriately served or expelled. It’s a pragmatic approach to a bigger problem – it doesn’t meet every progressive wish, but neither does it penalize students who can and do behave in a way that promotes education.

  • King Mom

    When crime spills into our community from adjoining cities we pay dearly – I suggest we consider if we pay less to educate, nuture and build community with kids from these same communities and reward families that will go out of their way to make opportunity available for their children. When our schools are so good that folks will go out of their way (perhaps even commit fraud) do we not appreciate that excellence? When or if that demand – remember these are kids in families willing to go further to be in a good school – drives the school perfomance up and and the surrounding property value goes up due to the value of our good schools are we going to send that value to Oakland to thank them for helping us raise out scores and proeprty value? Schools are an instrument of the state locally subsidized to augment the outcomes we hope for, for our kids – are we really so shortsighted as to not see that our concern for kids should be regardless of their address? I am Berkeley property owner, parent of one child who will attend all 13 years in BUSD and occassional landlord, I think my position allows me a well rounded perspective and wondering if perhaps this is just plain and simple about racism. If it is about economics we need to have a more frank discussion of what we value.

  • The_Sharkey

    The family being willing to break the law does not say anything about their kids, other than that they are the children of lawbreakers.

    Plenty of good parents have awful children, and vice versa. The only way for us to know that we’re only letting kids who want to learn into our schools (instead of just importing troublemakers who got kicked out of other schools) is through rigorous verification requirements and using the LEGAL transfer student methods.

  • rhuberry

    Berkeley schools are attractive to many families outside of Berkeley because they see smaller class sizes and lots of enrichment due to our local BSEP property taxes. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Berkeley schools are all that good. They just have lots of goodies. The achievement gap between the races in Berkeley is very high. So kids coming from outside of the area aren’t necessarily getting all that well educated. Letting kids come from all over dilutes the BSEP resources and crowds our schools beyond their intended capacity. Witness the number of portable classrooms at many school sites. That means more crowded playgrounds, cafeterias, flex space rooms, etc.
    It is not our job as one city to educate all kids who want to come here. Not being in favor of “open enrollment” does not mean we are shortsighted and not concerned about kids. Every city has public schools, so it’s not like these kids wouldn’t be going to school if they didn’t come to Berkeley. The public school system isn’t like college where you choose where you want to go. You’re supposed to attend where you live unless you have reasons not to, and then you’re supposed to get a permit.
    Most of these kids DO NOT drive the school performance up. What gives you that idea?

  • 94706er

    I’m an Albany resident, and it’s been a few years since I’ve had a kid in public schools, but I wish to point out:

    You’ve voted for parcel taxes for enhanced education in your community. And those parcel taxes really do make a difference in the quality of your schools. However, those parcel taxes amount to a very small fraction of your school district’s budget. The vast majority of the money for your district is money from the state based on attendance. In California, money for education is based on butts in seats, and it really doesn’t matter whether those butts belong to district residents or to out-of-district students.

    The way it went down in Albany was something like this. A few years ago, a new district superintendent did an analysis and concluded that the best option for the district was to accept out-of-district students to fill up any unused classroom capacity. That worked great until Albany maxed out it’s capacity, and the district ran out of places to put all of it’s students. At that point, the district started requiring proof of residency, and all sorts of hell broke loose. There were a lot of hurt feelings, which was a pity because the underlying math did not change…the money was still all about butts in seats and it did not matter where those butts lived.

    So, chill. And in the best Berkeley tradition, figure out how to best use the money you get for all those butts to educate all students, regardless of where their butts go to bed each night.

  • Culper Agent 355

    I have been in recent business situations where I met people from Hercules and Pinole who told me personally, not knowing I lived in Berkeley, that their children go to Berkeley schools. Both families stated this as a matter of pride. When I asked how that was possible, they said they used to live in Berkeley ten years ago, and just used that address and bills as proof of residency, that it was easy. Now their kids are in third and fourth grades. They commute to Emeryville, so it is not that inconvenient for them. Are families ever re-qualified as residents? Or do we owe lifelong education to the children of ANYONE who ever lived here?

  • EBGuy

    I think this may be one of the more common forms of enrollment fraud at the elementary school level. When the housing bubble collapsed, some renters bought where they could afford (read: not Berkeley). About ten percent of the students in one classroom that I know of fall into this category.
    I should note that I have heard of folks who were caught and forced to move back to stay in the district.