Berkeley School Board Weighs Options to Fit 250 New Students Next Year
More space is needed at Berkeley schools to accommodate an estimated 250 new students in the next three years. (Berkeley Unified School District)
With an extra 250 students projected to crowd into Berkeley schools in the coming three years, the school board considered a long list of options for creating space at its Nov. 5 meeting. The board will narrow down the choices at its Dec. 10 meeting, and decide on a plan of action in January.
After hearing a report on the options to add up to 12 classrooms, board members asked staff to more fully explore three possibilities:
--Moving transitional kindergartens out of the elementary schools to a pre-school site;--Converting some, but not all, of the 12 “enrichment classrooms” around the district to regular classrooms. Enrichment classrooms are those used for art, dance, theater, science or other purposes.--Moving Berkeley Technology Academy and Independent Study to the Adult Education School on San Pablo Avenue, and using the BTA site on Martin Luther King Jr. Way near Derby as an elementary school.
“There’s no solution that has no downside,” said board president Josh Daniels after the presentation.
Board member Beatriz Leyva-Cutler expressed concern that under the three potential solutions being studied, the populations being asked to move (pre-schoolers and students at BTA) were more often low-income than the district average.
The move comes after an increase in students this fall that led the district to convert several enrichment classrooms into regular classrooms at Malcolm X and Cragmont elementary schools. The decision frustrated many parents at those schools.
About 10 parents spoke up at the November meeting, urging the board not to convert any more enrichment classrooms and not to increase class sizes. (Many others were not able to speak due to time constraints.)
Several parents called for the district to reduce the student population by cutting back on fraudulent enrollment (out-of-town students enrolled using false addresses). Superintendent Donald Evans said that, although that topic was not part of the agenda that night, he would be making recommendations to the board “soon” about the address verification process. Evans said that superintendents from local districts met recently to discuss this problem. He called it a “lively conversation” and the first of many.
The district forecasts that up to six new classrooms will be needed next fall, up to four more in 2016 and another two in 2017 — as many as 12 new classrooms in three years. It’s a worst-case scenario, said Pasquale Scuderi, assistant superintendent.
Using the enrichment classrooms. Costs would be minor. There are a dozen at elementary schools in the district. Two are used for special education and medically fragile students, others are for arts, cooking, science, language lab, a learning center and after-school classes. One is in a basement and several are smaller than average.
“Before you make a decision to re-purpose room 9 [for special education and medically fragile students at Oxford], spend a day there,” said parent and doctor Amy Garland. “Don’t take it away from the most vulnerable kids in the district.”
After hearing the parents’ concerns about taking away these classrooms, Daniels asked district administrators to make a list of the five classrooms that could be repurposed with the least impact on schools. Leyva-Cutler called for protecting the special-education classrooms. Karen Hemphill said she would like each school to keep at least one enrichment classroom. Another board member added that the district should avoid taking rooms from schools that already lost enrichment rooms this school year. If all of those stipulations were met, only two extra classrooms would be found, as most schools have only one (or zero) flex spaces now.
Increasing kindergarten classes to 24 students, up from 20. This would add five classrooms, and no costs would be involved, according to the report.But the district’s report points out that smaller class sizes improve student outcomes, especially amongst disadvantaged students. Daniels said he was open to some increase in class sizes, but noted how unpopular the idea was with parents, and asked administrators not to pursue this any further.
Moving the transitional kindergarten (TK) classes. Costs would be small. TK is a new class serving 4-year-olds with fall birthdays, who are no longer eligible for kindergarten, under new state rules. The TK classes are currently in six of the elementary schools. If some of the TKs moved to one of the three pre-school sites, the preschool classes would be consolidated on the other two pre-school campuses. Hopkins is the most likely pre-school site for the move, Daniels said.
This move was suggested last spring, when the space crunch first hit, but the idea was discarded when some teachers and parents complained that the TK students would be better served on the elementary campuses.
Installing portables at LeConte, Muir and Thousand Oaks schools. The soonest that could happen is 2016. At least one parent protested the use of portables. Cost ranges from $4 million to $8 million.
Moving BTA and Independent Study from the relatively new school at MLK Jr Way and Derby Street to the Adult Education School (the former Franklin School, which has been renovated) on San Pablo Avenue near at Virginia Street. The BTA site could become an elementary school. This would cost under $1 million. Several board members expressed interest, saying that combining BTA with Adult Education could be beneficial to the students. Hemphill expressed concern that BTA was not built as an elementary school, and so could be substandard and would be serving a lower income population in south Berkeley – not an equitable solution.
Having the Adult School and an elementary school share the Adult School campus. While this would keep the district from taking enrichment rooms and keep TK classes at grade schools, it would create “an unusual combination of student groups in one facility,” according to the report, and would reduce the adult education program. Due to renovations needed to accommodate children (about $2 million), it would not be possible until 2017.
Eliminating the adult education site and opening an elementary school there. This would radically change the adult education program and can’t happen immediately. It would cost about $1 million.
Building permanent additions to schools. LeConte, John Muir, Thousand Oaks, Berkeley Arts Magnet and Washington would be possible sites. This would improve school-size equity across the district, but projects would take four years and cost $5 million to $9 million per site.
Building a new school at the Oregon Street maintenance facility site, for $20 million, or building a new school on land to be bought, for $30 million. Board members are not considering either of these options at this time. They might return to these ideas after they’ve made decisions to handle the short-term needs, Daniels said.
Board members discussed the possibility of combining modified versions of these proposals.