Name: Ty Alper, 44
Job: Clinical Professor of Law; School Board Director
Why are you running for School Board?
I am running for re-election to the Berkeley School Board because I am committed to promoting equity and excellence in our public schools. My wife and I are proud graduates of the Berkeley public schools, and we have three kids in the schools now — one at Rosa Parks, one at Longfellow and one at Berkeley High. Each child who enters a Berkeley public school should have the opportunity to meet their full potential, regardless of their race, background or socio-economic status. That is the great promise of public education, and it is privilege to work towards that ideal.
Why are you qualified for the position?
During my first term on the board, we revamped the ninth grade at Berkeley High to provide a small, supportive learning environment for every student, and we made a number of difficult but prudent financial decisions that have kept our budget balanced. In 2016, I co-chaired the campaign to renew our BSEP measure, which provides for small class sizes, arts and music education, professional development for our teachers, instructional technology, career technical education, and supports for struggling students. If re-elected, I will continue to ensure that we spend our scarce resources on programs that are proven to work.
BUSD is headed toward painful budget cuts, for the second year in a row. How would you get the district in a better financial position?
Virtually all public school districts in California are facing significant budget cuts due to rising mandated pension contributions. In Berkeley, we are a lot better off than some other districts, primarily due to difficult but prudent budget reductions we made last year, as well as the generosity of Berkeley voters, who supported the renewal of BSEP by record margins. But California remains in the bottom fifth of states in the nation in per-pupil funding for K-12 education. Until funding improves, all K-12 districts in the state will continue to struggle. We need Prop 13 reform and we need the legislature and governor to prioritize public education spending. In the meantime, the School Board must continue to make painful decisions about how to reduce our own budget, and we need to do in a way that is open and transparent, and inclusive of the many voices in our community.
There are persistent, significant academic disparities along racial lines in BUSD. How would you work to close the achievement/opportunity gap?
We have made strides in closing the academic/opportunity gap through a combination of strategies, including targeted interventions, expanded mental health and behavioral counseling, parent and community outreach, culturally-responsive teaching, “coordination of services” teams at every school site, and hiring and retaining more teachers of color. It is true, however, that persistent gaps remain, and addressing this is an urgent priority. This year, we are beginning a new ninth grade structure at Berkeley High, a major change that is a research-based approach designed to provide a small, personalized learning experience for each student, and we are using eighth-grade data to identify students who are particularly likely to struggle in their first year at the high school. We have also invested in coordinating services for black students in the seventh through 10th grades, a period that the academic research and educational data indicates is particularly important. Of course, the achievement/opportunity gap starts very early; third grade reading ability, for example, is one of the strongest predictors of high school graduation rates. Above all, in a period of budget constraints, we need to make sure we are spending our precious resources on services and programs that are proven to work.
This election follows recent violence and tragedies on school campuses, and the growth of a national movement to prevent those incidents. How would you make Berkeley schools safer?
Every day, thousands of parents and guardians entrust their children to teachers and classified staff across the city. We need to be vigilant about protecting their children 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. It is an awesome responsibility to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for all of these children; keeping our students and employees safe on our campuses is our most important priority. The School Board recently allocated $2 million to improve our safety infrastructure, including the installation of “Columbine locks,” fencing, security cameras and PA systems, and other recommended measures. We have also continued to conduct drills in our schools and district facilities. Such drills can be frightening for students, but we unfortunately cannot afford not to be prepared. The district also has collaborative relationships with the City of Berkeley and with the Berkeley Police Department, and they have been critical partners in ensuring safety in and around our schools.
What are your two other top priorities?
I have a number of priorities for the next few years in BUSD: ensure that we do everything we can do to recruit, support and retain excellent teachers; continue to develop and expand career technical education pathways in our secondary schools; build on our efforts to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault in our schools, and respond appropriately when it does occur, in a restorative manner that focuses on addressing the harm caused; make responsible reductions to the ongoing budget; complete our facilities master plan; improve our special education services and contain costs; and infuse environmental sustainability measures throughout everything we do. I’m sure I have left out a number of important priorities; we have a lot of work to do!
What is your most inspired/unusual idea for Berkeley Unified?
We have made some key improvements to our summer school program, but I would like to see it thrive and grow into an opportunity for many of our low-income students to have an inspiring, fun, and academically enriching summer experience, on par with the kinds of summer experiences their peers from wealthier families enjoy every year.
How will you be accessible to constituents?
I have office hours every month, and I am accessible by email and phone. I have tried to be responsive to every message I have received during my first term on the board, and I will continue that practice for the next four years.
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? About $25,000
Find Ty Alper online: www.tyalper.org