Berkeley School Board primer: Science classes, teacher housing, budget priorities and more

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

The Berkeley schools Board of Education meets today, Wednesday, March 22. On the agenda: physics for freshmen; Common Core math implementation; a possible bond measure for building teacher housing; a look at “confusing” complaint policies; and more. Read the full agenda.

Here are some of the highlights.

SCIENCE AND MATH CLASS SEQUENCES The Berkeley High School science class sequence could get flipped around in the effort to align the curriculum with the Next Generation Science Standards, new science education guidelines adopted by many states. The proposed sequence has all freshmen taking physics, whereas the small minority of BHS students who currently take the course do so as juniors or seniors. The board might vote on the new course progression Wednesday, paving the way for some freshman physics classes in 2017-18 and full implementation in 2018-19. It could be part of a complete overhaul of the ninth-grade program that year. See item 12.1 for details.

The BHS math program is also being reconfigured, and the board will hear a progress report Wednesday. The new three-year math class sequence is meant to meet Common Core standards, integrating traditional math subjects with a focus on conceptual thinking. The third and final year of the program will be implemented in 2017-18. So far the district has allocated $200,000 for teacher collaboration and preparation time each year as the new math program is developed, but there will be less funding in the budget for Common Core implementation next year. See item 12.2 for details. New math support classes for the middle schools and high school are included in Local Control and Accountability Plan recommendations on the agenda Wednesday as well. See item 14.3 for details.

THE 2017-18 BUDGET The board will look at new budget considerations for the 2017-18 school year. According to a district report, reductions will be necessary. BUSD is looking at a $.5 million structural deficit, due in part to a decline in student enrollment and to increasing personnel costs, according to the district. State reimbursements for mandatory costs have also decreased significantly. Among the most expensive new needs identified in the report are the $550,000 annual BHS ninth-grade redesign cost, funding for two new school buses and $1.1 for Common Core implementation and training — down from a bigger Common Core budget this year and likely to be cut in the coming years. See item 12.3 for details.

TEACHER HOUSING BOND It is not easy to pay Bay Area rent on a teacher’s salary, so some districts desperate to retain their staffs are figuring out how to provide housing themselves. On Wednesday the School Board will discuss the possibility of putting a bond measure on the 2018 ballot to build teacher housing in Berkeley. If BUSD chooses to pursue the bond, feasibility issues, possible locations and teacher demand will have to be considered. See item 12.4 for details.

COMPLAINT POLICIES The processes for filing or appealing a complaint with BUSD could use some streamlining, according to district staff. “The District recognizes that there are overlaps and inconsistencies regarding the complaint policies and procedures that are confusing,” says the item in the agenda packet. The information item will cover the different policies for different types of complaints, such as discrimination or bullying complaints. The district’s new Title IX coordinator, Dana Clark, has been charged with revising the current system. At the last three board meetings, testimonies during public comment have criticized the way the district has handled sexual harassment complaints. See item 14.5 for details.

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 on Youtube.

Read more Berkeleyside coverage related to Berkeley schools