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Berkeley School Board primer: Thousand Oaks Spanish program in jeopardy, recess restriction report, more

The BUSD School Board in December 2015. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD
The BUSD School Board in December 2015. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

The Berkeley schools Board of Education meets Wednesday, March 23. On the agenda: the possible elimination of the Thousand Oaks Spanish immersion program; a $1.9 million class-size reduction budget shortfall; the district’s first report on recess restriction; a major telephone system update; revisions to the district’s facility naming policy; and defibrillators for elementary schools.

THOUSAND OAKS SPANISH PROGRAM The district reports that demographic changes in Berkeley have sparked declining enrollment in one of two Spanish immersion programs at BUSD elementary schools. The program at LeConte Elementary seems to be fine, but the one at Thousand Oaks isn’t getting enough students. The district has tried lowering the proficiency level at Thousand Oaks to get enough students, but is still struggling. The district has asked the board to consider how to proceed. One option is to eliminate the program beginning next fall. The district could also continue with a smaller class size of 12, or add eight English speakers to the class. A vote is expected. See item 12.1 for details.

RECESS RESTRICTION REPORT Up for discussion, the district’s approach to recess restriction, which can be used by teachers “for corrective purposes.” The policy was adopted in November 2014, but the board is still refining it. One possible tweak could mean that “no student will ever have their recess restricted for more than 10 minutes in a single day.” The district will get a report tonight on the use of recess restriction up to this point. The district found that the approach was used most in grades 2 and 3, and most commonly in response to “physical contact, disruption, and non-compliance.” The district says the overall rate has gone down this year compared to last. There are disparities as far as which students are impacted, particularly “African American students and students with IEPs,” which “parallels a comparable challenge, locally and nationally, with regard to disproportionality in multiple forms of discipline data.” See item 13.1 for details.

CLASS-SIZE REDUCTION BUDGET SHORTFALL Berkeley residents pay a special tax to help keep class sizes small. The district has found that the tax, however, is not sufficient to cover all the costs associated with those reduced class sizes. The district needs to take an estimated $1.9 million from the General Fund to help fill the gap; the board previously approved to to $2 million for this purpose. See item 12.2 for details.


NEW PHONE SYSTEM The phone systems in most Berkeley schools go back about 15 years, and it’s time to replace them, according to staff: “The system is unreliable, with several schools reporting system issues on an almost weekly basis.” The idea is to replace the phones this summer, with completion in mid-August. The project is expected to cost $708,667 to be paid from Measure I Bond money. See Item 11.19 for details.

NAMING POLICY The board has been looking at improving the way it handles naming and renaming school sites and facilities, as Berkeleyside reported in October with a look at Le Conte Elementary School and its namesake, described by one board member as “an unabashed, devout racist.” The board is set to approve the revised policy tonight, March 23. Names could recognize a geographic area, or individuals: those who have contributed at the community level, or at the state, national or worldwide level. The policy “encourages community participation” through an advisory committee appointed by the superintendent, “However, it is the Board’s sole prerogative to name or rename a school or school facility and the Board may choose a name that was not recommended by the advisory committee or the Superintendent.” The policy also notes: “The renaming of existing schools or major facilities shall occur only under extraordinary circumstances and after thorough study.” See Item 12.3 for details.

DEFIBRILLATORS AT ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS The board is expected to approve the purchase of nine automated external defibrillators (AEDs) for Berkeley’s elementary schools, estimated to cost $13,500. One has already been donated by a UC Berkeley group. AEDs “can help prevent unnecessary deaths from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA),” which is identified in the staff report as the leading cause of death in the U.S. each year: “While most SCA deaths occur in adults, SCA is also the leading cause of death in young adults and can strike children who are engaged in normal school activities.” Berkeley High has seven on campus, and AEDs are installed at Berkeley Technology Academy and Berkeley Adult School. Five others are at Berkeley middle schools, and there is one at Jefferson Elementary. Read more in item 11.6

Meetings end with a self-evaluation. (See Item 17.) The next school board meeting is scheduled for April 6

Meeting details

The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education generally meets twice monthly on Wednesdays at 2020 Bonar St. The entrance to the board chambers is around the corner on Addison Street. There is a large parking lot around the corner from Addison Street, on Browning Street.


The regular meeting is set to begin by 7:30 p.m. Public comment is limited to 30 minutes, with a 3-minute limit per speaker. Public comment takes place at the beginning and end of the meeting, rather than in response to each item.

Meetings are televised live on Berkeley Community Media channel 33, and rebroadcast the following Thursday at 9 a.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Meetings are also recorded for radio and played after the meeting on KPFB 89.3 FM. They are also streamed live, and posted online after the meeting. Other BUSD-related videos are posted online at Vimeo.

Read more Berkeleyside coverage related to Berkeley schools. See the full agenda packet, and the Berkeley School Board website.

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