Name: Laura Babitt, financial controller of global operations
What office/district are you are running for? Berkeley School Board
What is the main reason you are running? I am running for the Berkeley School Board primarily in response to COVID-19. Combining my professional finance, accounting, and operations background and hands-on BUSD experience affords me the unique opportunity to help BUSD successfully navigate this unprecedented time as we reengineer our schools, navigate the financial pressures the impending recession will bring, and strive to overcome the achievement gap. I am convinced that we have the opportunity to boost academic outcomes, social-emotional development, and to ensure that every student has an equal chance to succeed.
Why are you qualified? For the last 10 years, I felt the call to action and responded. I have been an engaged parent organizer and champion for equity while guiding my 3 children through BUSD. My advocacy has provided: support vs. discipline, social-emotional counselors, family engagement staff, special education support, English language learner support, and stopped budget cuts for educators. I have established policies that reduced suspensions & improved response to sexual harassment /racial bias. I helped write BUSD’s nationally recognized goals and designed programs to reach them. I also led a non-profit organization, Parents of Children of African Descent (PCAD), which under my leadership, advocated for equity in results, connected parents to resources, & hosted empowerment / community-building events.
What sets you apart from other candidates? 1. Intimate knowledge of how BUSD operates at every level, from Pre-K to High School, as a parent and oversight committee member. I have served on the BSEP Oversight Committee (parcel tax), Parent Advisory Committee (supplemental fund), Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee (general fund), PTA & School Site Councils (since 2010). This work has taught me the particularities of Berkeley. I’ve demonstrated my ability to work with all demographics by finding our common ground, strategizing to reach common goals, and using comprehensive data and research-based initiatives to drive improvements. I am known to solve complex organizational and finance problems by listening deeply, asking hard questions, and relying on data to develop the consensus needed as we make informed decisions.
What brought you to Berkeley and when did you come? My family has a history of BUSD graduates, from Shooty Babitt, BHS Hall of Famer, on. I was raised by educators who modeled advocacy and creating change. When my child began school, my sister saw the fruits of her advocacy efforts 8 years earlier as the systems she put in place were still in play. I remember thinking, “What is so important that you are so busy doing volunteer work?” Then I became a parent & before I knew it, I felt the call to action. I picked up the mantle towards equity.
What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years?
- Responding to COVID-19 as BUSD strives to safely reopen schools, and strengthen distance learning
- Closing the achievement or opportunity gap and ensuring that all students receive a quality education.
- Managing its funds in the midst of budget cuts while offering competitive pay and benefits to educators and staff
What are your ideas to begin to solve them?
- BUSD should ensure it implements all CDC guidelines required to reopen schools, follow the science outdoor classrooms provide, continue to close the digital divide, and listen to its constituents. For years we have advocated for BUSD to help close the digital divide and implement green schoolyards. If BUSD had acted, our COVID-19 response would have been much more efficient with greater learning outcomes for all students.
- Over the years, my experience serving in various BUSD leadership roles has given me great insight to understand why BUSD has had some success in putting the right initiatives in place, but has failed to adequately resource, guide, and implement these initiatives so that its intended purpose to close the opportunity gap is met. I am looking forward to addressing these pitfalls and establishing systems which interrupt anti-blackness and implicit bias within our schools.
- Berkeley tax payers continuously increase its taxes to support educator pay, support and enrichment programs, and improved facilities. However, these added benefits have still left BUSD teachers among the lowest paid in Alameda County. I am looking forward to having greater access to advocate at the state level to ensure public education ranks higher in its funding priorities. We must ensure initiatives like schools and communities first are not needed again once these loopholes are closed, and that elected officials deliver on adequately funding public education.
How will you be accessible to constituents? I have enjoyed collaborating with BUSD constituents. I will continue to do so through office hours, developing a cabinet which would meet regularly with at least two School Board directors, develop mini “School Boards” for elementary, middle, and high school students to take active leadership roles implementing change / improvements needed, and I will continue to be a grassroots community leader. Together we will provide the quality world-class education we all desire for our next generation.
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? $15,000
Share a personal interest or passion people might be surprised to learn about. An interesting fact about me is that I was born on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and my first-born daughter was born on the day he was assassinated.