Berkeley School Board set to vote on slashed budget for cooking and gardening program

C&G photo

Supporters of the BUSD cooking and gardening program speak out at the March 12 BUSD Board meeting. Photo: Mary Flaherty

UPDATE, March 27: As expected, the Berkeley Unified School Board last night voted to commit $485,000 for the coming year to its gardening program, under the terms outlined it the proposal that called for gardening classes for pre-kindergarten through grade 7. [See the full proposal on the BUSD Board meeting agenda packet, starting on page 54.] Commenting on the move, Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center, said Berkeley was showing leadership in finding money from its budget for the pioneering program after losing nearly $2 million in federal funding. “Who else is stepping up like that on their own dime?” he said. “Berkeley is leading the way.”

ORIGINAL STORY: For the past few months the Berkeley school district has been struggling along with funding for its beloved cooking and gardening program. After some back-and-forth on proposals this winter, the board is now expected to vote March 26 to approve very reduced funding for gardening classes only in the 2014-15 school year.

Supporters – teachers, students and parents – pleaded with the school board at its March 12 meeting not to make further cuts to the cooking and gardening classes, which lost an annual $1.9 million in federal funding last fall. The program is already operating on less than half its former budget this year – about $850,000 — with bridge funds. Next year’s budget would be under $500,000.

“This has been a very difficult process for all of us,” Superintendent Donald Evans said. “This is a nationally recognized program. But that was when we had $2 million. We can no longer retain that type of program.”

The cuts affect cooking and gardening classes at every school in the district, except King Middle School, where the garden is operated under separate funding by the non-profit Edible Schoolyard Project, founded by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse

During their long discussion, the board members appeared to agree that the current BUSD program needs to eliminate its cooking classes for now and offer limited gardening classes. The latest proposal called for gardening classes for pre-kindergarten through grade 7 (eliminating grades 8-12). However, board members said they’d also like to fund the garden at Berkeley Technical Academy (which is shared by the Independent Study students), and that will be added to the proposal the board is expected to pass Wednesday, March 26.

But even at a reduced cost of $485,000 for the coming year, with only $178,000 requested in new funding, the board members were very concerned about whether the budget could accommodate the outlay.

“I’m struggling with this,” board member Karen Hemphill said. “We’re having a lot of things come to the board, piecemeal, that are all a priority, that all have their supporters.  Nobody here doesn’t love this program.”

The board will be committing to funding only one year right now. Board members recognized that a longer term financial commitment is probably better for attracting major donors. However, with changes in school funding this coming year (the new Local Control Funding Formula from the state), the district is still sorting out priorities for any new monies it gets.

Board members discussed allowing individual PTAs to raise funds supporting cooking classes in their own schools. Hemphill was initially opposed, saying it would create inequalities between the schools. But by the end of the discussion, the board members seemed to agree that if a principal signed off, they were fine with PTA-funded cooking classes.

Another possibility for the future is involvement from the Edible Schoolyard Project which has offered to help run BUSD’s middle school cooking and gardening program once a blueprint for sustainability is in place.

Board president Josh Daniels said he is hoping that a proposed city tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (not just soda) for November’s election, will help fund the cooking and gardening program.  The tax — which the City Council has not yet decided to put on the ballot — would bring in an estimated $1.5 million a year, say supporters. That’s less than the $2 million cost of the full cooking and gardening program, and it’s unlikely all the proceeds from the tax would go to the program. A further hurdle is that any funding for the cooking and gardening program would have to be re-approved annually by the city council, if, as expected, the tax is a general tax (which would only require a 50% vote to pass). A special tax, which would segregate the funds for specific uses, requires a two-thirds vote to pass.

Starting March 26 the board moves its meeting location to 2020 Bonar St. Meetings will no longer take place at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m.

Cooking cuts loom in Berkeley’s edible program (1.29.14)
Berkeley tasting night raises funds for school edible program (11.14.13)
Berkeley schools’ edible programs face huge challenges (11.11.13)
Portraits: Berkeley schools’ cooking and gardening program (05.29.13)
Berkeley schools gardening, cooking program in peril (o4.16.13)
Fight re-launched to save school nutrition programs (11.19.12)
School edible programs get reprieve from the Feds (06.14.12)
Berkeley district votes to fund at-risk edible programs (04.12.12)
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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  • Chris J

    Damn shame, teaching young kids to cook and garden should be a part of the curriculum and not some special add-on. Of course, there’s the money issue, and if it dissipates, cuts are gonna happen.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Every house in Berkeley costs a million dollars, but there’s no money for the schools. Think about that.

  • supersickandtired

    Berkeley…the home of free speech…as long as you say what everyone wants to hear…

  • Guest

    House value does not help schools, property tax does. Prop 13 needs to be repealed or changed.

  • Mbfarrel

    Every time a house is sold it’s assessment is raised to the selling price.

  • EBGuy

    It is about to rain down on Berkeley. From BUSD: The
    LCFF significantly changes the funding formula for school districts — providing
    more money for students who are underperforming. The LCFF identifies three
    categories of students requiring greater resources: 1) students who qualify for
    free or reduced priced meals, 2) students who are English Learners, and 3)
    foster youth. Together, roughly 40% of Berkeley students fall into these
    Its an eight-year phase-in period so it’ll trickle in over time.

  • Doc

    Berkeleyside is a breath of air in that regard. I can remember when the old Daily Planet practiced strict information management.

  • supersickandtired

    you mean 40% of BUSD students fall into that category because a large portion of that category are not Berkeley students.

  • guest

    Yes, cooking and home ec. are vital skills but why on earth does it cost more than half million dollars to teach our students such simple skills? Can’t these subjects be worked into the normal school day? Home Ec. & personal finance as part of math, cooking as part of chemistry and health?

  • guest

    There IS money for the schools, but it’s squandered by a wasteful school board and the general find is pilfered by a wasteful city government. Not to mention the way that per pupil spending is being diminished by illegally enrolled out-of-district students with no serious attempt to curb abuse.

  • guest

    Kids who try hard and do well get screwed. Kids who goof off and are low-ability get extra money.

    How much more backwards can our education system get?

  • Ergo402

    A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, specifically earmarked for childhood nutrition programs in Berkeley, is the way to go.

  • Andrew D

    Our public education systems reason for existence is so EVERY CHILD gets an education, not only the one’s who can afford one, as was the case before universal childhood education was established in this country and is still the case in many developing nations around the world. This is an integral part of the social contract of our society. That society includes kids who are low ability and kids who goof off (of all abilities). How exactly do you propose to fulfill the above mentioned MANDATE of the entire system, if not by trying to figure out how to serve all comers? There is no option to simply pick and choose whom to educate based on some criteria. I’m not saying there is an easy answer, but you seem to imply that there is the ability to write certain students off. I strongly disagree.

  • EBGuy

    Eligibility for free/reduced lunches drops from slightly under 50% for middle school students to 25% for high school students in BUSD (according to ed-data CA circa 2011-12). There can be a couple of explanations for this, and some of them will require you reassessing your assumptions. Enrollment fraud knows no class boundaries.
    Culver City requires copies of lease/rental agreements or property ownership documentation for enrollment. BUSD should apply these common sense measures as well.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    False. If the house is sold to someone 55 or older, they may keep the assessment of their previous house under Props 60 and 90.

    In addition, the transfer of real property between generations of the same family – in either direction – does not trigger reassessment.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Isn’t the per-pupil funding … per-pupil? That funding is not diluted by increased enrollment.

    The local funding from property taxes of course would be diluted.

  • Andrew

    Why can’t they locate and apply for grants for such programs. There are bound to be organizations willing to support this kind of endeavor.

  • jjohannson

    We need an electrified fence, drones and border guards. How else can we protect the precious bodily fluids of our students?

  • endtheBASP

    Great point Mr. Leyser! The school is granted $60 per present student on a daily basis. It is alleged that around one third of the school is from out of district, this would roughly amount to $66,000 per day and 11,748,000 per year. Also, the data on illegal out of district students comes from the out dated 9 year old Rinat Fried study. The school desperately needs this money, and cannot use faulty statistics as a way to eliminate a third of the school, glad to hear one person on this site knows whats going on!

  • shameonusfornotthinkingharder

    What do we spend to bus kids all over this city in the name of equity and diversity? Maybe teaching kids how to eat right and making it possible for them to WALK (you know exercise) to school makes more sense now. I’m all for equity and diversity, but perhaps we ought to look at the global budget priorities and see if this still makes sense. What is the cost to our micro communities of every one of my neighbors taking their kids to a different school? How much greenhouse gas are we creating to continue this program? How much extra traffic is on the road? How much less money is in the economy because of the inefficient after care expenditures that have to take place because neighbors aren’t at the same school, and can’t help one another? How much less in per pupil fees do we receive because some parents are so annoyed by the process they send their kids off to private school?

    What about working to end prop 13 entirely? It would have a huge effect on education funding as well as affordability, as all these seniors that are holding on to oversized homes that they no longer need, because they are paying almost no property tax. They would have to move on, and open up the space for someone that could really use it. It’s not enough that they are the beneficiaries of a giant ponzi scheme known as social security, we need to artificially subsidize their ability to remain in homes that they no longer need at the expense of our kids’ educations?

    By the way, do you know what we spend on cops and firefighters? This is really disgusting in my opinion… particularly in the context of cutting a vitally important part of human education for our youngsters.

  • guest

    Belittling the concerns of others like this seems like a fairly insulting way to reply to someone’s comment. If is a fact proven by independent investigations that BUSD has a problem with fraudulent enrollment. The question is simply how big of a problem it really is.

  • guest

    Yeah, not really. That only applies if the new home is of equal or lesser value than the home being moved from, and only when the homes are both within the same county, which makes up such an extreme minority of home sales in Berkeley as to be statistically insignificant.

  • guest

    Are you new to Berkeley? BSEP funds are not per-pupil. The more students in the schools, the less each individual student gets. A new, similar tax is expected on the ballot again soon.

  • guest

    This has absolutely nothing do with being able to AFFORD an education since these are all public school students we’re talking about. The idea that all children are equal is feel-good nonsense used to drag down high-achievers in public schools.

    While you’re busy increasing funding for kids who don’t want to be in school and are best suited for learning trades, a student who could end up curing cancer is left without a science lab in high school and forced to waste their first few years at college playing catch-up.
    The obsession with pumping the most of our energy and money into our very worst students is exactly why America’s schools are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to first world nations.

  • thetruthshallsetyoufree

    I don’t believe the relative risk of the firefighting and policing professions, really warrants the kind of pay that they are receiving.

  • Doc

    All the mean districts like Piedmont, Accolonies, Albany seem to care very much to reserve the schools for the community. Only Berkeley seems to have the smart accountants who believe the above thesis that Berkeley comes out ahead by false registration. Actually of course Berkeley residents tax themselves heavily and that money is stolen by registration fraud.

  • Andrew D

    No, the reason we are at the bottom of the heap in education is EXACTLY because we have so many failing students. The way to get our numbers up is not to somehow magically wish they did not exist but to figure out how to make them not fail. A good starting point would be to increase funding for our schools which is also arguably at the bottom of the heap compared to the rest of the first world and really the root of this type of crabs in a barrel attitude you are promoting.

    And please do not put words in my mouth. I did not say, and do not believe all students are equal. My point is that all students MUST BE TAUGHT. Both by law, and because that is the whole point of having public education in the first place. Let us imagine taking your advice: put more resources into teaching the “best” students, at the expense of the “worst” (you can even pick the definitions of those words) and this will magically raise our test scores across the board? So these students whom you claim are sucking all the resources are going to somehow do better if we invest less resources in them? Sure the best and brightest will do a little better, and the bottom will do much much worse. What was the point of having free universal education again? I think you need to revisit whether you are actually on board for that concept first.

  • Maggie Leyser

    A friend just let me know that he moved two of his children from BUSD to a private school and plans to move the third next year. The reason was that the teacher was wholly occupied with the low achieving students and had quite a bit less time for his children, who are “above the line.”

    In all, this family will dump $75K/year into private school education. Had they remained in public school, I’m willing to guess that they would have had the means to make some sizable contributions to the PTA that won’t be happening any longer.

    You’re forgetting, too, that Berkeley has taken on $1B in indebtedness for expanding facilities. Only a dishonest ideologue would describe that as anything less than huge for a city our size and yet the district’s own demographers have shown that the number of actual resident students is on the decline in Berkeley, with no housing construction that would likely add school age children appearing on anyone’s radar.

  • guest

    Right. Because paying people good money to risk their lives to protect yours is a big rip off.

  • guest

    Actually, I don’t think the U.S. is at the bottom of the heap in terms of school funding. As with health care, I think we waste an enormous amount of money on strategies that don’t work. Sadly, I think that our problems aren’t the schools, it is our culture, which pays lip service to hard work and studiousness, but doesn’t actually convince our kids that it is important. As a teen, I went to an inner city school in Oakland, and the penalty for hard work and enthusiasm for school was brutal and met out entirely by the other students. What the teachers did was irrelevant.

  • Eerie trouble

    I’ve worked as a roofer and now as a carpenter, both risky jobs that provide humans with shelter. I’ve never come close to making the kind of money cops and firefighters in our town do, yet actuarially speaking my chosen professions are riskier as detailed by the BLS, and a lack of shelter poses a much greater risk to health and happiness than the threat of random violence which the cops allegedly protect us against. I think the facts presented should allow us to have an adult conversation about the appropriate compensation for our public servants.

    It seems to me, the real role of the police now is to put down dissent and extract revenue from peaceful members of the community. Didn’t we lose a law abiding citizen in the hills because our
    Police elected to deal with an occupy protester instead of a real threat a few years ago?

  • Fact Checker

    Firefighting is actually one of the safest jobs in the Nation.

  • Fact Checker

    United States spends more per pupil than any country in the world; 30 percent more than a decade ago

  • guest

    The United States spends more per pupil than any other developed Nation on earth. Yes, some of the problem is cultural, but the schools themselves are also a huge part of the problem.

    Nations that utilize student tracking are far more successful at educating their students and have far lower dropout rages than we do in our everyone-has-to-go-to-college system that tries (and fails) to prepare all students for higher education that many of them are not suited for.

  • guest

    Perhaps that’s because they spend an extraordinary amour of time training to make it as safe as possible. I’m sure you are not arguing that policing and firefighting are intrinsically safer than accounting, right?

  • guest

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that being a cop or a firefighter requires somewhat more training (and courage) than being a roofer. No offense, but you are far more replaceable than a cop, who doesn’t “allegedly” protect you, he or she actually does protect you. The fact that you are confused about the importance of having police or firefighters is a tribute to their effectiveness.

  • EBGuy

    Your information is incorrect. You must request an interdistrict transfer, first, from the school district where you reside, then a transfer MAY be granted if there is space available. At the elementary school level, you’ll have a hard time convincing parents of students in the Washington Elementary School portables that there is space available.
    There is no priority or special rights given to Berkeley municipal or UC Berkeley employees. Children of BUSD teachers, however, are allowed to attend Berkeley schools “by right” (see Section 21.3 in the old contract) if the district where they reside allows the transfer.

  • BerkeleyPariah

    if BUSD is forced to expand the schools (Jefferson) and use portables then i think the answer is “NO SPACE AVAILABLE” but for whatever reason Francisco at admissions has been breaking this rule for a long time and was broken before he was ever there also. Francisco purposely looks the other way to get ESL families from outside the district into BUSD to fill the quota for the TWI program, when asked about that he just smiled and didn’t deny it. if you want to get a taste of BUSD backroom deals just get a the waiting list for the TWI programs at one of our fine elementary schools or now Le Conte you could be #1 and witness multiple students get in before your child…only in Berkeley!

  • Loopholes

    You are forgetting the systemic abuse of “homeless” status as a backdoor admissions program. Berkeley went from 160 “homeless” students to over 800 in just a few years without any increase in the number of students on free/reduced lunch.

    Further, the grandmother/aunt arrangement is horribly misused. School residency in America, with some few exceptions, is based on where you actually reside, not on where your ancestors reside. So, a grandmother who signs a caregiver affidavit on behalf of a child who does not reside with her full time has committed fraud.

    And let’s not forget the families who start out in a rented apartment, move away, and yet remain in BUSD, where re-verification never happens.

  • JF

    Wow, that’s straight up generational warfare.