Berkeley School District seeks feedback on how to spend $2.4 million for low-income students

BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans speaks with participants at the first of several LCAP forums for the community, this one in December 2013. Photo: Mark Coplan

BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans speaks with participants at the first of several LCAP forums for the community, this one in December 2013. Photo: Mark Coplan

Berkeley schools are getting an extra $2.4 million this year to help low-income students and English learners under a new state funding system. To decide how best to spend the money, the district has been working with the community for the past seven months.

Last week administrators shared the first draft of the three-year plan, which includes hiring more teachers of English as a foreign language and more reading specialists. The district is looking for feedback on the draft by this Friday, May 9.

The plan is called the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). It is part of a new system of state funding for schools, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which began this school year.

It sounds dry, but it’s a big deal, said BUSD Assistant Superintendent Neil Smith. In fact, Smith said, the LCFF is the biggest change in how California schools are funded that he’s seen in his 25-year career with Berkeley schools.

A meeting of the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) and District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC) on April 24, 2014. Photo: Mark Coplan

A Berkeley gathering for the Latino community to discuss the special funding on April 24, 2014. Photo: Mark Coplan

Unfortunately, it’s not so much about getting a lot more money from the state for schools, although funds should increase little by little each year. School funding dropped dramatically after the economic crash. “But it’s still not up to where we were in 2007-08,” Smith said.

The difference is in how schools can spend their money. Under the old system, about one-third of a district’s state funding was earmarked for specific uses – and there were about 40 categories.  So, for example, the money given for textbooks could be used only on textbooks.

Under the new system, most of the school funding now comes without earmarks and can be spent as the district sees fit.

In addition, the state provides extra funds for the target group, which includes low-income students (those who qualify for free or reduced lunch), English learners, and foster kids. The three groups make up 42 percent of Berkeley’s school population.

The students in that target group typically perform worse on standardized tests and the high school exit exam. Those scores are folded together into a number called the Academic Performance Index. Last school year’s API average for Berkeley students was 821; for socio-economically disadvantaged students the score was 750, and for English learners it was 703.

While Berkeley schools are now getting that additional $2.4 million in funding to serve that target group, how it spends that money requires community input for the Local Control and Accountability Plan.

To create this plan, meetings began last December, with a public forum that generated a list of 140 suggestions. In January, several groups began meeting, including principals, teachers, school staff, union representatives, parents, students and community members.

The result, Smith said, was $10 million worth of ideas for the $2.4 million budget. School administrators have now pared down the ideas to fit the budget, and presented the first draft at a BUSD board meeting on April 30. With input from the board and the community, a second draft will be presented May 21. The public hearing on the final draft is June 11.

The largest budget item on the three-year plan, at nearly $900,000 per year, is for grouping English learners by fluency levels for small group instruction. That means hiring nine more teachers. 

The plan also includes:

  • More  reading specialists, so that each site has a full-time person;
  • A full-time intervention coordinator at the high school to identify and help kids who are falling behind and part-time interventions advisors at the grade schools;
  • Site coordinators to get families in the target group more engaged at school;
  • Contracts with agencies for student mental health services;
  • Increasing the number of teachers of color by 1 percent each year (up from the current 29 percent).
  • More teacher training in cultural awareness.

Goals include raising test scores and graduation rates for low-income students and English learners, and lowering absences and suspensions.

At the April 30 BUSD board meeting, Laura Babitt, a board member of Parents of Children of African Descent, said she didn’t think the goals for African-American students were set high enough.  For instance, the goal for African-American third-graders reading at grade level by 2016-17 is only 65 percent, based on a 5 percent increase each year, while the overall goal is 80 percent.

“It doesn’t close the (achievement) gap fast enough,” Babitt said. Several school board members agreed.

“Some goals need to be much more aggressive,” said school board member Julie Sinai.

“We know we can be more aggressive, but we also want to be realistic,” countered Superintendent Donald Evans.

In addition, school board members questioned whether some of the proposed actions, such as reducing middle school math class sizes from 28 to 24, were the best possible use of money for the target group.

Board members also asked the staff to be more specific about some goals, so that the solutions would be more targeted. For instance, they suggested one could indicate that attendance rates for African-American students, specifically, need to improve, and then actions could be more tailored.

Review the 36-page first draft of the LCAP. (Note: there is a glossary of terms and acronyms at the end of the document.)

Written comments are due by 4 p.m. Friday, May 9, and should be e-mailed to, or mailed to: Berkeley Unified School District,  Office of the Superintendent, Attn: LCAP Comments, 2020 Bonar St., Berkeley, CA 94705

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  • CarolunS

    The idea of increasing ‘teachers of color’ by 1% each year seems a little weird. Right now, apparently it is 29%, which is a fairly substantial number already. In ten years, it is supposed to be 39%? I have nothing against ‘teachers of color’ but it almost sounds like hiring could become discriminatory in a desperate attempt to meet this goal.

  • Just Sayin

    Agreed! Let’s not forget that the caucasian population has increased 3% since 2002…

  • djoelt1

    Particularly when the “colored” population of Berkeley is declining. AA population down to 8% now, will probably be below 5% by 2020 and 2% in 2030.

  • guest

    Agreed. How does the skin color of the teacher help low-income students?

    This just seems vaguely racist.

  • Mary Flaherty

    CarolunS, Sorry, I left out of the story that this is a three-year plan. I will amend the story. The BUSD goal is, by the 2016-17 school year, to reach 32 percent teachers of color — not just African-Americans, but a diverse group.
    Djoelt1, While the African-American population at Berkeley High has dropped in the past decade (from 30% to 22%), the Latino population has increased (from 12% to 21%.)

    This situation is also occurring on the national level; an Associated Press story from Sunday, May 4, reported that while nearly half of U.S. students are minorities, less than 20 percent of teachers are.

  • a

    Here is the BUSD demographic summary. The upshot is ~45% hispanic and african american students across the district.

  • Guest

    So basically more of the same because that seems to be working so well…..sigh.

  • Just Sayin

    Thanks for the clarification!

  • guest

    How about allowing low performing students to get the special attention they need in classes designed only from them, instead of putting them together with the top achieving GATE students where they feel frustrated because they are left behind?

  • AmyShiro

    In the same way male teachers provide positive role models for male students, having a teacher in the classroom or down the hall who “looks like me” has been shown to have a positive correlation with increased learning and test scores.

  • PolicyOfTruth

    It’s also not supported by the literature. See, for example,, in which we see that this approach can have unintended, harmful consequences for other students and that policies to improve the effectiveness of all teachers are more attractive for this reason.

  • guest

    So because students are racist or sexist, we should be racist and sexist in our hiring practices?

    If we want to help low-income, disadvantaged students I would rather try to hire teachers from low-income disadvantaged backgrounds without worrying about what color their skin is.

  • Inigo

    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  • Eva

    Six ideas in no particular order: make it easier for behaviorally /learning-challenged students to have aides in class full-time, so the teachers can focus more on teaching with fewer disruptions; increase woefully inadequate playground supervision; better accommodate overcrowding; give further training to food prep folks to improve same; improve consistency of so-called ‘electives’ (arts and life skills); improve funding for basic school supplies and field trips; and, to the extent that money could help, improve preparation /orientation for , and training of substitute teachers. Just for starters…whew.

  • Cammy

    My first year teaching in the 1990’s I was called a “racist” for giving a student a low grade for not turning in work, and showing up late to class. So would a teacher of color been better for her?

  • Cammy

    Yes, but not in Berkeley schools. The numbers should stay about equal to Caucasians. The percentage you’re quoting may be correct, but it’s not represented in the schools for a variety of reasons.

  • Hmmmm

    Which in no way describes the ethnic makeup of the residents.

  • Leslie

    To hell with goals. They are just more blah, blah, blah. Since low income students usually catch up a bit during the school year and they fall much further behind each summer, how about more summer programs. The other big deficit generator happens before they children even start school the other most effective happens even before Pre-K. So…duh. This is a crap plan, more of the same old, same old.

  • Mary Flaherty

    Summer school is in the plan, for both high school and elementary school, budgeted at about $150,000/yr. See pages 28 & 29.

  • guest

    If a student is more willing to listen and learn from one teacher because of their skin color, and will blow off a teacher of a different skin color, then that student is racist.

    If you have a point you want to make, go ahead and make it. Dropping oblique quotes because you can’t figure out how to articulate your feelings is just lame.

  • guest

    The number isn’t declining in Berkeley schools because of illegal enrollment. Fix the problem with illegal enrollment and the numbers will go back where they should be according to census data.

  • deirdre

    “make it easier for behaviorally /learning-challenged students to have aides in class full-time”: well said. Classroom aides seem far more available to kids up to 3rd grade, after which time they’re still needed but they don’t give the same level of coverage. And support for substitute teachers: that’s a huge need. Substitutes often stay at a school for a week or more at a time.

  • Doc

    So to understand correctly, having decided to break the law and encourage false registration to keep BUSD demographically preferred to Berkeley, it now seems wise to follow up and break equal protection laws and similarly discriminate in hiring, right?

  • Twill Monkey

    What will make a real, permanent difference is to really MAKE parents and caregivers get involved in their kids’ lives. Not screen-involved, but sitting the kids on laps and reading to them from babyhood. And if they can’t themselves read or read well, kids books are a great place to start. Having no time is no excuse. There are so many ways to help, both just once or for the long term. It doesn’t take any special time: in the laundry mat waiting for loads, in house or somewhere else, for 10 minutes or 10 years.
    The district can use this boon is to form peer squads of parents in blocks and/or neighborhoods to get them–and keep them–rolling in culturally-sensitive ways. Just so it happens. Our Berkeley libraries are filled with good books in English and other languages, places to meet and talented librarians to help with choices. The only way to create change is from the inside out and develop reading and related literacies as part of family culture. One of the main reasons kids from more advantaged households do better is because there is a family culture of education, which begins with reading.
    These are not “poor” families who need direction and help from the outside. That will not change anything. What’s needed are opportunities to train self-selecting neighborhood leaders in community organizing, child development, how to access resources, and how to decide which resources their community would like. Then BUSD can dump its money into creating and maintaining these resources for the long-term. This is not a three-year problem, it’s a twenty-year project, and it is for the ENTIRE community and greater society–each and every one of us–not just for”those other people.”

  • guest

    If a student is more willing to listen and learn from one teacher because of their skin color, and will blow off a teacher of a different skin color, then that student is racist.

    This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of pedagogy and the teacher-student relationship (and racism). Kids learn more effectively from teachers that they admire and identify with. Culturally relevant pedagogy is one component of this strategy.

  • bgal4

    Is it Mandatory for failing students? BUSD has never made summer school mandatory for those students they socially promote. The likely reason is student travel distances.
    BUSD does not design and administer summer school programs using best practices, they have historically thrown together some last minute bandaid approach. This is an area where Scuderi could apply his administrative skills and establish quality summer schools by selecting/ training teachers, choosing curriculum and using testing data to close gaps in students skills.

  • Doc

    Don’t worry, BUSD only pretends to run GATE. Not part of their agenda to educate smart kids.

  • guest

    This literature does:

    Pitt DW. Representative Bureaucracy, Ethnicity, and Public Schools: Examining the Link Between Representation and Performance.

    Also this:

    Klopfenstein K. Beyond Test Scores: The Impact of Black Teacher Role Models on Rigorous Math Taking.

  • guest

    I think this misunderstanding is a big part of the reason you’ve been relegated to posting anonymous comments on the intertubes and not, you know, having anything whatsoever to do with designing curriculum or setting education policies.

  • Doug F

    Hire a few Finnish K-12 teachers to teach their system to lots of Berkeley teachers. Best results in the world, & it doesn’t involve long hours of drudgery like the 2nd-best, S Korea, or tracking like most of Europe. It most especially doesn’t involve teaching to the test.

  • Enough already

    The District tells the state of CA that 40% (nearly 4K) students are free- and reduced-price lunch eligible.

    And yet, the American Community Survey yields a mere 400 families in the income brackets that correspond to being free- and reduced-price lunch eligible, with school-age children residing in Berkeley.

    So, two possibilities:

    1) on average, those 400 families have 10 children each.

    2) BUSD is once again subverting its own policies and allowing a huge number of students to enroll in Berkeley schools without actually living here.

    Maybe the new Superintendent could be asked to comment on that? Or the Board?

    And no, it’s not “complicated.”

  • Sigh

    You’re describing the promise neighborhoods, which Dr Evans was involved in in Hayward, in his last job. It’s a great idea but doesn’t work if the children don’t live in the neighborhoods. Hard to influence home life in Pinole from Berkeley.

  • John Freeman

    I think your statistics are rubbish but perhaps you can defend them.

    You say that you used American Community Survey data.

    The American Community Survey data for 2012 gives us an estimate of the number of school age children in Berkeley:

    5-9 years: 4,325
    10-14 years: 3459
    15-19 years: 12,144


    That last category, age 15-19 years, includes many Cal freshmen. In 2012, 5365 freshmen said they would enroll. Not all of these lived in Berkeley but we’ll subtract the whole lot out.

    The adjusted table looks like this:

    5-9 years: 4,325
    10-14 years: 3459
    15-19 years: 6779 (excluding incoming Cal freshmen)
    total: 14,563

    (BUSD enrollment is approximately 9,600 per Berkeleyside.)

    Another census bureau table tells us that 9.1% of all people under the age of 18, living in Berkeley, were in poverty for the survey period.

    Sadly, the rate for children under 5 was even higher.

    9.1% of 14,563 is about 1,300 school-aged kids in poverty living in Berkeley. The cut-off for free or reduced lunch is much higher.

    Around 3,600 kids enrolled in the lunch program during this period. Nearly a third of these must have been Berkeley kids that not only qualified, but that qualified by a country mile.

    You don’t really explain how you got your numbers but you’re taking some kind of round-about method of trying to count households in certain income ranges and drawing inferences about how many kids that might or might not correspond to.

    The census gave us that much more direct data about kids living below the actual poverty line and more than qualifying for the program.

    You say you found a mere 400 households below the 180% line.

    The census tells us directly that many more than 400 Berkeley kids fall below the 100% poverty line.

  • A third possibility

    You’re making a fundamental error.

    “Low-income students (those who qualify for free or reduced lunch), English learners, and foster kids. The three groups make up 42 percent of Berkeley’s school population.”

    You’re right. It’s not that complicated. So why do you keep getting it wrong?

    Minor detail: if you’re looking at the household income table on ACS’s web site, that data is from 2008.

  • Enough already

    No need to adjust for the Cal effect as there are tables that give us figures for ages 5-17.

  • John Freeman

    Nevermind. Worked on the second click.

    was: Your link is broken.

  • John Freeman

    There are well over 700 single-mom households in Berkeley, with school aged kids, with income below 130% of poverty. Every single one of them is eligible for free-or-reduced lunch.

    Earlier you claimed: “the American Community Survey yields a mere 400 families in the [eligible] income brackets”.

    Go ahead and have a look at the table. Every kid in a family below 130% of poverty is eligible (plus many more kids).

    See on that table where it says how many single-mom households there are, below 130%, with school aged kids?

    There are 768 households like that (aka 629 + 139).

    In fact, if you add up all the households listed there under 130% with school age kids you get more than 1000.

    And in fact more households than that will be eligible.

    Where’d you get “400”?