Author Archives: Mary Flaherty

Mediation between school district, staff union fizzles

The BUSD school board meeting at its new meeting space on Bonar St. in March headquarters. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD
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After failing to agree on a new contract despite three years of talking, the Berkeley Unified School District and a union representing 570 Berkeley school employees will now turn negotiations over to a fact-finding panel.

A mediator that has been working with BUSD and the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees union (BCCE) since February decided on July 29 that mediation could not bring the two sides any closer and turned the process over to a three-member panel. The main sticking point is the question of involuntary transfers. The district and union have reached agreement on many other issues, including salary raises. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Asphalt: New technology will reduce odors

Berkeley Asphalt plant on Virginia St. Photo: Mary Flaherty
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Berkeley Asphalt plans to invest in a new manufacturing process designed to reduce emissions and odors in its West Berkeley neighborhood starting in January, officials announced recently.

Its neighbors have complained about the noise, odors, and pollution from the plant for at least 20 years, most recently in June when a group questioned whether the plant has been violating its use permit with excess odors and noise.

What the company has decided to do is convert to a new technology called “warm-mix” asphalt, which produces paving material at a lower temperature than traditional asphalt, yet performs as well on the road and releases fewer pollutants into the air, according to company officials. The decision was the result of negotiations between the company and city staff that began last year.

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Bridge Program helps narrow Berkeley’s achievement gap

Some of the kids in the Berkeley HIgh Bridge Program are (from left): Armando Maravilla, Jared Scott, Jacari Trent-Pontoon (in green shirt), Karina Juarez, Aia Abushareefh, Yakira Evans, Michelle Resendiz and Ariana Tamayo.   Credit: Jessie Luxford
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Four years ago Armando Maravilla came out of Longfellow Middle school a C-student.  Due to graduate from Berkeley High School next week, Maravilla is now heading to San Francisco State University, planning to study psychology.

How he got from there to here has a lot to do with the Bridge Program at Berkeley High, he believes.

The Bridge Program takes C-students from middle school – about 30 every year — and offers them summer programs, afterschool homework support, and lots of advice, nagging and hand-holding by dedicated teachers. The goal is to keep those C students from slipping, and hopefully make them B and A students.

“It felt helpful – all the advice, the summer programs, the information — how you’re supposed to talk to teachers,” said Maravilla. … Continue reading »

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Chanting protesters shut down school board meeting

Nearly 200 union workers from the Berkeley schools shut down the school board meeting temporarily Wednesday night. The group declined to stop their impassioned chanting, forcing the board members to go into closed session for about 15 minutes. (The video, above, by Mary Flaherty, shows members leaving their posts.)

District spokesman Mark Coplan said he’d never seen a Berkeley school board shut down in 20 years of service.

The Berkeley Council of Classified Employees union represents about 570 office staffers, custodians, food service workers, instructional assistants, school safety officers, secretaries, librarians, bus drivers and others.

The union is has been negotiating a new contract for three years, and is currently working under an old one. … Continue reading »

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4 years at least until Berkeley Tuolumne Camp is rebuilt

3/21/2014 view of California poppies along the south facing slopes above the Tuolumne Wild and Scenic River. Photo by Dusty Vaughn, USFS. #RimFire — in Groveland, CA.
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“The dogwoods are in bloom.”

After last August’s Rim Fire wiped out Berkeley’s Tuolumne Camp in the Sierra, that announcement at a recent gathering for campers drew a round of applause. As did the declaration by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates that, “We’re going to do everything we can do, humanly possible… and beyond humanly possible, to rebuild that camp.”

But, despite the hopeful signs of spring in the fire zone, and the commitment of local officials, it will be 2018 at least before Berkeley’s much-loved family summer camp can be rebuilt. … Continue reading »

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

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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. … Continue reading »

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Illegal enrollment is boon and burden to Berkeley schools

Students at King Middle School Photo:
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When Sarah James went to the first meeting for her daughter’s freshman crew team at Berkeley High School, she wanted to form a carpool for the 6 a.m. practices.

But James (not her real name) lived in Oakland and had enrolled her daughter using a false address. James did not think she would find any other crew members living near her Rockridge bungalow, but she needn’t have worried. That fall, there were four other girls on the team who lived in Oakland, James said.

The official freshman crew roster, however, showed that everyone had a Berkeley address.

That was nearly 10 years ago, but people haven’t stopped enrolling their kids illegally in Berkeley schools. Everyone seems to know a case: people using relatives’ addresses, friends’ addresses, or even rental property owned by the family who lives out of town. One recent gossip item on a local internet site: a man with a boat at the Berkeley marina, using that address to enroll his child, who lives in another city. … Continue reading »

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

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UPDATE, 03.27.14: 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 $2m 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.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley family camp will this year be at Echo Lake

Echo courtesy city of Berkeley
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Berkeley Family Camp this summer will be offered at the city’s Echo Lake Camp, near Lake Tahoe, for five weeks. The city’s Tuolumne Family camp near Yosemite burned down in the August 2013 Rim Fire.

Camp sessions will run June 21-July 7, July 11-20 and July 25-Aug. 4.  The length of stay will be flexible, just like it has been at Tuolumne Camp. Registration begins Feb. 12 for residents and Feb. 19 for non-residents. Rates and more information are expected to be available this week at the city’s recreation department website or by phone, 510-981-5150.

Echo Lake Camp is located just off Highway 50, a few miles south of Lake Tahoe, and about a three-hour drive from Berkeley.  The camp’s elevation is 7,400 feet, nearly 4,000 feet higher than Tuolumne Camp (and colder at night). It sits alongside the Pacific Crest Trail and the Tahoe Rim Trail near the El Dorado National Forest.  The camp “boasts incredible views,” according to a city press release. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Tuolumne Camp unsafe for visitors, says city

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Visiting the remains of Berkeley’s Tuolomne Family Camp near Yosemite after the summer’s Rim Fire was apparently a big draw over the Indigenous People’s Day weekend in October. About 40 people dropped in on the camp just on that one weekend, said Scott Ferris, director of the Berkeley parks department.

And it seems that at least one person has visited even more recently, as someone anonymously posted pictures on Dec. 17 of the burned camp under snow on the Friends of Berkeley Tuolomne Camp Facebook page.

“Obviously, people are curious,” Ferris said. While he is sympathetic, Ferris is asking that the community not visit the site for safety and liability reasons. There are about 1,000 dead trees on the property that could fall at any time, he said.

“Some have fallen already, and (the standing ones) are degrading on a daily basis. What looks to be a harmless situation is not,” Ferris said. … Continue reading »

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A little something: Where to find bite-sized treats

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As we work off the excesses of Thanksgiving dinners and Hanukkah feasts, and anticipate still more over-indulging during the winter holidays, what better time to think about eating less? Specifically, smaller bites of the treats we love. Mary Flaherty set out to investigate local purveyors who offer wonderfully small portions of the ice creams and pastries we can’t live without. (Let us know in the Comments if you know of other East Bay spots that think small. In particular, Mary is still looking for a tidy little blueberry muffin!)

Petit croissants at La Bedaine

The mid-Solano French take-out shop La Bedaine sells sandwiches, tarts and vacuum-packed dinners, as well as pastries.

La Bedaine’s croissant ($2 — pictured above) is about half the size of most American croissants, estimates chef/owner Alain Delangle. It’s also slightly sweet. The pain au chocolate (chocolate croissant) ($2.25) is about two-thirds the size of others in the area, he said.

Asked why he makes smaller croissants, Delangle said, “I’ll show you —  it’s very simple.” Reaching behind a counter, the French native pulled out a rolling pin-like device from France that rolls and cuts the croissants into a fixed size.  “That’s the normal size for a French croissant.”

La Bedaine, 1585 Solano Ave. between Ordway and Peralta. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley groups want old railroad bed to be a public park

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A group of local residents is asking the city to raise funds to turn an old, fenced-off railroad bed in South Berkeley, called the Santa Fe Right of Way, into open space with community gardens and a trail that connects to the Ohlone Greenway.

The challenge is that the parks department is already seriously underfunded. Officials are considering a measure for next November’s ballot for a tax increase of at least $20 on average, just to keep from having to lay off park maintenance workers.

Last Wednesday night, the Park Commissioners discussed the ballot measure. About 14 supporters of the Santa Fe project and several Willard Pool advocates urged the commissioners to fund these large projects, as well.

“We want to make sure that the Santa Fe Right of Way should be among the key — if not flagship — projects on ballot measure,” said John Steere, president of Berkeley Partners for Parks. … Continue reading »

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Debate over new Tunnel Rd bike lane centers on parking

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Plans for a bike lane on Tunnel Road — under negotiation for the past year between the city, residents and biking advocates — will be discussed Thursday night at a city Transportation Commission meeting.

Last fall, the city proposed a bike lane on the uphill side of Tunnel Road between the Claremont Hotel and the city line, near Highway 24, a road busy with recreational cyclists as well as bike commuters. The proposal eliminated all parking, making many residents unhappy.

“We take the brunt of all the traffic,” said Jacquelyn McCormick, president of Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association. “To ask one street to give 100% of something is unfair.”

At a meeting Oct. 9, city staff, residents and bike advocates discussed a revised plan, which restored many but not all of the parking spaces along Tunnel Road. Most of the 40 or so residents at the meeting were far happier with this plan, but the sticking point was the block between Oak Ridge Drive and The Uplands, where the road narrows and parking (enough room for up to 20 cars) was still eliminated in favor of the bike lane. … Continue reading »

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