Berkeley School Board: 3 seats contested by 5 candidates

The Berkeley School Board, at its August meeting. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD
The current Berkeley School Board, at an August 2014 meeting. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

Three seats on the Berkeley Unified school board are being contested by five candidates in this year’s election. Three of the candidates — Josh Daniels, Karen Hemphill and Julie Sinai — are incumbents on the board (although Sinai was appointed, not elected, following the resignation of Leah Wilson). Ty Alper and Norma Harrison are the two non-incumbents running for the board.

Berkeleyside asked each of the candidates a number of questions about both their background and their views on some key issues facing Berkeley schools. The responses to the questions are provided in alphabetical order below.

One slightly unusual aspect about the school board race is that the three incumbents have endorsed each other and are circulating literature encouraging voters to elect them as a combined slate. Since school-board elections are citywide, building name recognition among voters is often particularly difficult for non-incumbents.

Both Daniels and Hemphill were on the board during the fiasco over the hiring and then non-hiring of Edmund Heatley for the then-vacant superintendent post. BUSD was run for a year by two interim co-superintendents before superintendent Donald Evans started in July 2013. Daniels was first elected in 2010 and Hemphill was first elected in 2006. Sinai was appointed to the board in May, 2013, following Wilson’s resignation in March that year.


Alper and Sinai have raised the most money for the race, according to the latest filings with the City Clerk. Alper has raised $28,330.99 and Sinai has raised $27,749.99. Daniels, who has also been very visible as one of the chairs of the Yes on D campaign, has raised $16,188. Harrison, according to filings, has not raised any money.

Ty Alper

Ty Alper
Ty Alper

Education:
B.A., Brown University
J.D., NYU School of Law
L.L.M., Georgetown University Law Center

Work: Clinical Professor of Law, U.C. Berkeley School of Law.

I teach, train, and supervise law students in all aspects of representing indigent clients facing the death penalty.

Berkeley resident: 1979-1991, 2004 – present

What do you think are some likely solutions to overcrowding at Berkeley schools?

The District received demographic projections ten months ago, and is now starting to look at short-term solutions for next year. Hopefully this will not be too late to keep all viable options on the table. None of the options are appealing: squeezing more children into the few remaining “flex” classrooms, installing portables, moving transitional kindergarten classrooms to a common site, increasing class sizes. Long term, we need a master facilities plan that analyzes projected enrollment and actual capacity at each school, so the Board can make well-considered decisions with transparency and accountability.


Do you think fraudulent enrollment is a major problem for BUSD? Would you like to direct staff to do anything new to deal with fraudulent enrollment?

I am skeptical that fraudulent enrollment is the cause of overcrowding in our elementary schools, but I don’t know for sure. I have seen neither a transparent, District-wide analysis of the issue (except for a 2005 study recently made public), nor an analysis of the pros and cons of options for addressing fraudulent enrollment.  I would like to see staff prepare such an analysis.

Do you think school safety needs to be addressed, and, if so, what would you like the district to do?

We need to be vigilant about protecting our students from a variety of dangers, from intruders on campus to natural disasters, to bullying and sexual harassment, and we also need to foster clear communication and cooperation between the District and the neighborhood communities that host our schools.

List one or two other issues that are priorities for you.

  • Ensuring that we critically assess whether the new funds we received this year are serving intended students: low-income children, English learners, and foster children;
  • Ensuring that the BSEP tax is renewed in 2016;
  • Ensuring that we devote sufficient resources to quality professional development for teachers as we implement the Common Core standards.

For more information see Alper’s information on the city election website and Alper’s campaign website.


Josh Daniels

Josh Daniels
Josh Daniels

Education:
BA, Wesleyan University (Majors: Government, Mathematics)
MA, Wesleyan University (Mathematics)
JD, UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall)
MPP, UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy

Work: Staff Attorney, California School Boards Association

Berkeley resident: My entire life (1981-Present)

What do you think are some likely solutions to overcrowding at Berkeley schools?

The School Board will be discussing possible solutions to overcrowding in our elementary schools at the School Board meeting on Nov. 5. Staff will be coming forward with recommendations. And we are also asking community members to email their suggestions to me and to the Superintendent.

Do you think fraudulent enrollment is a major problem for BUSD? Would you like to direct staff to do anything new to deal with fraudulent enrollment?

The Superintendent has increased the frequency of bed checks and he announced on Oct. 8 that he will be bringing a new policy to the School Board that would require each student to re-enroll between elementary school and middle school and between middle school and high school. For more information on this, I recommend Berkeleyside’s April 2014 article on the subject.

Do you think school safety needs to be addressed, and, if so, what would you like the district to do?

Student safety is the School Board’s number one priority. No student can learn if they are not safe and do not feel safe. Currently each school is required to have a safety plan. And, on Nov. 5, the School Board will be receiving an update on our disaster response to an earthquake. In terms of day-to-day student safety, we have seen a marked decline in the number of discipline incidents such as fighting.

List one or two other issues that are priorities for you.

My top priorities are open and transparent government (e.g., the four-meeting process to address our elementary school enrollment challenges), smart financial decision making (e.g., having BHS renovation come in $6 million under budget), and ensuring that all our students receive a good education (e.g.,focus on our most at-risk students through our Local Control and Accountability Plan).

For more information see Daniels’ information on the city election website and Daniels’ campaign website.

Norma J. Harrison

Norma Harrison
Norma Harrison

[Editor’s note: This is Harrison’s response to the same set of questions sent to all the candidates.]

I have been studying “education” for 70 years.  I believe what I see, not what the system we live in tells me to believe. We don’t like school; just as we don’t like jobs and prisons and the confinement to which our various strata consigns us. School directs us to fill a niche this system, the profit system, needs us to fill. So much of our lives is limited by the many strictures which it turns out are really unnecessary – except as they fill our Owners’ – our Riches’ – coffers.

In order for people to begin to surmount the barriers limiting us from making pleasant lives for us all, my sitting on the board would create that opportunity. We need to declare together what it is we need and like and what stands in our way of taking those to ourselves, to each of us. We keep getting told we need this terribly confining method, schooling; that we need the papers – the diplomas, degrees.

You KNOW of the many people who succeed without those – without completing even elementary, let alone high school, and college. How can that be? How can we live well together without trying to fit the cookie-cutter, schooling. Yes, school TELLS us we’ll all be responded to as individuals. But that’s not what happens there. You can tell because we all serve this brutal system reported to us all day and night long, of imperialism’s murderous assaults throughout the world and next door.

Let me further challenge that with you.

For more information see Harrison’s information on the city election website.

Karen Hemphill

Karen Hemphill
Karen Hemphill

Education:
A.B. in Asian Studies, Brown University
M.A. and advanced graduate work in Political Science/Public Administration, U.C. Berkeley

Work: City of Emeryville: Assistant to the City Manager (senior analyst) and am also the City Clerk.

Berkeley resident: since 1977, homeowner San Pablo Park neighborhood.

What do you think are some likely solutions to overcrowding at Berkeley schools?

A long-term solution needs to be framed by a Master Facilities Plan that includes classroom, flex/enrichment, open spaces, as well as 21st century technology needs. A shorter-term solution will need to analyze use of all District facilities, consider equity between schools, and what is possible within the envelope of our current school bond. We have already started this process — Board held one meeting in October and another is scheduled for early November.

Do you think fraudulent enrollment is a major problem for BUSD?  Would you like to direct staff to do anything new to deal with fraudulent enrollment?

Hard to say what the net impact is — but given our increasing enrollment, we need to address this issue in fairness to our students and taxpayers. I favor instituting having all students – not just new students re-enroll at elementary, middle, and high school and instituting random home visits as part of the enrollment process (and publicizing this policy). I am very open to other equitable solutions.

Do you think school safety needs to be addressed, and, if so, what would you like the district to do?

We have recently completed a district-wide student safety plan (for natural and human dangers) and have instituted anti-bullying and conflict resolution policies/educational initiatives and are currently working on a sexual harassment policy. Need to stress implementing these initiatives with consistency and fidelity across the District and educating students as well as families.

List one or two other issues that are priorities for you.

Providing teacher/staff training and student/family support to successful transition to Common Core’s priorities that stress critical thinking, hands-on learning, and tailoring instruction to meet differing student academic needs.

Continued responsible, open and transparent fiscal management – Berkeley High renovations were completed two weeks early and $6 million under budget and for several years the District has received clean audits.

For more information see Hemphill’s information on the city election website and Hemphill’s campaign website.

Julie Sinai

Julie Sinai
Julie Sinai

Education:
AA, Santa Rosa Junior College
BS, Community Service & Public Affairs, University of Oregon
Master of Public Administration, University of San Francisco

Work: Director, North/East College & Career Pathways; Contra Costa Community College District.

I manage a consortium of 13 community colleges and 18 school districts in the Bay Area, working to build a regional practice that increases successful transition of high school students into post-secondary certificate and degree programs aligned to their career interests and to high wage/high growth careers.

Berkeley resident: 1985-88, 1993-present

What do you think are some likely solutions to overcrowding at Berkeley schools?

I am on the Board’s Capacity Subcommittee. We requested the Superintendent present at the Nov. 5 Board meeting every possible solution, from reviewing our enrollment policy to evaluating the repurposing of existing school sites. I have urged the Board to make short-term decisions for school year 2015-16 by early January and longer-term solutions by March.

Do you think fraudulent enrollment is a major problem for BUSD? Would you like to direct staff to do anything new to deal with fraudulent enrollment?

The District needs a deep analysis of enrollment to accurately project our instructional and facility needs. I support the exploration of an amendment to the District’s policy that includes the verification of residency at key transition points – when a student is promoted from elementary to middle, and middle to high school. I am also encouraging our Superintendent to have discussions with our neighboring districts.

Do you think school safety needs to be addressed, and, if so, what would you like the district to do?

Safety is a high priority. We have made progress with the implementation of Welcoming Schools curriculum, the anti-bullying policies, and restorative justice practices. Every school has an up-to-date safety plan to provide a safe physical environment. We also need to ensure that students have caring adults they can turn to when they need support.

List one or two other issues that are priorities for you.

  • That our teachers have the support and training they need to deliver the Common Core to our diverse student population and our families have the support and tools they need to support their child’s education.
  • That all our students get the same high quality education to prepare them for college and 21st century careers.

For more information see Sinai’s information on the city election website and Sinai’s campaign website.

To bring yourself up to speed with all the candidates and measures that will be on the Berkeley ballot, look no further than Berkeleyside’s Election Hub