Posted on January 14,
BUSD Opts Out of Race to the
By Riya Bhattacharjee
Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent
Bill Huyett said Monday the governor’s new budget would result
in significant cuts to the district in 2010-11.
Huyett acknowledged that the district didn’t have any definite
plans of how to address the estimated $2 million budget deficit
predicted in the latest forecast, but he hopes to have a solution
soon. The cuts are in addition to the $8 million slashed last
Although hundreds of school districts have signed up for President
Obama’s Race to the Top grant program this year to take advantage
of federal funds during a tough economy, Berkeley Unified decided
against it last week because of doubts about what would be
required of districts that accepted the relatively small amount
of federal money.
Gov. Schwarzenegger said that his budget calls for public-education
funding to be maintained at its current level and that it will
give school districts additional flexibility to avoid unnecessary
classroom spending. Schwarze-negger also says his budget will
build on the reforms outlined in President Barack Obama’s Race
to the Top initiative, which will provide $4.35 billion nationally
from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
However, Huyett noted, the governor “said one thing and did
another” when he announced his budget.
“He’s talking about keeping money in the classrooms, but there
are cuts,” Huyett said. A closer look at the governor’s budget,
he said, shows that he has proposed cuts of up to $1.5 billion
“The governor has been very vague about this,” Huyett said.
“He is saying that the cuts will be made from the central office,
but what does that mean? Don’t tell me that that’s not a cut
“It looks like we will lose $200 to $225 per student in our
district from what he’s proposed,” Huyett said.
Berkeley Unified had to cut program funding last year in order
to bridge millions of dollars of deficits. Although teachers
were spared layoffs for the most part—one art teacher and two
counselors lost their jobs—BUSD did issue pink slips to custodians.
Adult education took a hit, as did after-school programs.
Huyett said that, although funds from Race to the Top might
have helped the district during these difficult times, the
amount of money offered was not enough to sway the board and
“We had originally thought we would get a lot of money,” he
said. “But then we realized that it would be spread out over
four years and it won’t be that much. Only time will tell if
we are missing out or not.”
The whole state of California may be eligible for up to $700
million from Race to the Top, which is designed to encourage
and reward states and school districts for innovation and reform.
Although BUSD submitted a letter of intent to the state Department
of Education earlier this month about working with the state
for Race to the Top, Huyett said the district had backed out
because the state did not have a clear implementation plan
Districts were given a deadline of Friday, Jan. 8, to take
part in the initiative.
“The School Board said that, unless the state has a plan they
could see, they did not want to sign an agreement from which
they could not be removed,” Huyett said. “That was the biggest
concern. The state doesn’t have any specific plans yet, and
we are being required to sign off on them. We don’t want to
be obligated without knowing what we are going in for.”
The state is scheduled to release a specific plan on how it
plans to use the federal money Jan. 19.
Although both Schwarzenegger and state schools chief Jack
O’Connell support Race to the Top, local East Bay leaders,
including Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and Richmond Mayor Gayle
McLaughlin, have opposed it, calling some of the requirements
already set in the federal program too drastic. Berkeley Mayor
Tom Bates did not return calls from the Planet asking if he
supported or opposed the program. [emphasis added]
Dellums administration Director of Communications Paul Rose
told the Daily Planet that the mayor had refused to sign a
letter that nine other California mayors had endorsed asking
state lawmakers to make changes to the way the state was applying
for the grant.
Rose said Dellums wanted the application to include conditions
that would allow public schools to have the same amount of
flexibility as charter schools, would address the existing
wealth gap in public schools and would bring in a more diverse
pool of teachers.
However Oakland Unified School District spokesperson Troy
Flint told the Planet that administrators in his district had
applied for Race to the Top funding.
“While objections to various provisions of Race to the Top
may have merit, they are not sufficient to remove ourselves
from consideration when so much is at stake,” Flint said in
an e-mail. “Our first and foremost concern is doing what’s
necessary to ensure California is competitive for Race to the
Top funding; we can define the small details later. While no
legislation is perfect, Race to the Top will fund valuable
programs that benefit children—and California’s children should
be among them.”
Flint said that the Oakland Board of Education is scheduled
to vote Wednesday evening, after the Planet goes to print,
on whether the district should collaborate with the state for
McLaughlin also called for an end to the state’s wealth gap.
Calls to McLaughlin were not returned by press time. [emphasis
Huyett said BUSD would have received a total of $600,000—$150,000
a year, spread over a four-year period—if it had qualified
for Race to the Top.
“At the same time, we would have also incurred a lot of costs—we’d
have to hire people to administer the program—so it wouldn’t
really have been cost beneficial,” he said.