BSEP Measure of 2016 Overview & FAQ

Measure 2016 At A Glance Overview (PDF)

What is BSEP?

The Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP) is a special local tax measure, first passed by Berkeley voters in 1986 as a response to school funding shortages in the wake of Proposition 13. It currently provides 20% of the funding for the Berkeley Public Schools. This short video provides a simple summary of the history of BSEP and what the local funding provides for Berkeley students.

What will the BSEP Measure of 2016 provide?

The board resolution and full text of the BSEP Measure are found here. The 2016 Measure is dedicated to supporting the essential purposes that were funded by Measure A of 2006, but with a clearer structure and relationship among the purposes. The 2016 BSEP Measure provides funding for programs and initiatives in three main categories:

  1. HIGH QUALITY INSTRUCTION: 66% of revenues support teaching and learning with:
    1. Small Class Sizes: Funding for 30% of teachers in the Berkeley Schools!
    2. Professional Development, including teacher training,
    3. Classroom Support to reach a range of students,
    4. Educational Program Evaluation to provide data on what is working and not working in school initiatives, and
    5. Expanded Course Offerings for before and after-school classes at the middle and high schools.
  1. ESSENTIALS FOR EXCELLENCE: 27% of revenues fund equitable access to an enriched, challenging and engaging curriculum by paying for:
    1. Libraries in every school,
    2. Music and Visual/Performing Arts programs 4th-8th grade,
    3. Instructional Technology, and
    4. School Site Funds to be used to expand opportunities for students both within and beyond the school day.
  1. EFFECTIVE STUDENT SUPPORT: 8% of revenues provide funding for programs that help students reach their highest academic potential by addressing social-emotional, behavioral and academic supports, including:
    1. Student Achievement programs such as literacy coaches that support students when they struggle to reach higher levels,
    2. Middle School Counseling, and
    3. Family Engagement programs to partner with parents and guardians in supporting student success. 

Why do we need a local tax to support public education?

A recent NPR article looked at per pupil spending across the nation. Their data showed California providing approximately $8,300 per student per year. That is compared to a national average of nearly $12,000 per student, and is less than half of what is provided in states like New York. With the local funding provided by the BSEP tax measure, as well as a local school maintenance tax measure and other local resources, our district comes close to the national average of about $12,000 per student, but is still nowhere near the funding provided in the top 10 states, which provide over $15,000 per student.

Hasn’t school funding improved lately?

Proposition 30, and the Local Control Funding Formula of 2012, have restored some of the funding that was cut from schools during the recent recession. However, these increases have only restored funding to about the 2007 level (adjusted for inflation), and have also come with mandated costs that have reduced the district’s ability to fund additional programs. And meanwhile, as can be seen in this article from EdSource, and in this summary, California is nowhere near the levels of funding for schools that once placed our state among the best for public education. A recent lawsuit arguing that a well-funded education should be a constitutional right was brought by a coalition of education and community advocates, but was struck down in appellate court.

What is new about the BSEP Measure of 2016?

There are some structural changes made to ensure that the funding for the measure’s purposes can be sustained through the life of the measure, including:

  • The term has been shortened from 10 years to 8 years;
  • The per square-foot rate has been adjusted to compensate for a new legal ruling which prohibits school districts from having different tax rates for commercial and residential properties.
  • The cost of living adjustment will use a local Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than a State Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). The Bay Area CPI is used widely locally and was used in all BSEP measures prior to 2006.
  • Elementary school class sizes will be gradually adjusted towards a balance across K-5 of a school-wide average of 23:1, rather than the current split of 20:1 K-3 and 26:1 at 4th/5th.
  • There is some flexibility to direct a percentage of funding of district-wide programs to where it is most needed and effective, based on yearly recommendations, as well as the provision for setting aside a reserve to ensure that funds are projected to be sustainable over the life of the measure.

What is the proposed tax rate of the new measure?

The tax rate is calculated based on the square footage of improvements (buildings, structures) made to each parcel. Due to a recent legal ruling that affects all California school special taxes, the 37¢ per square foot tax on improvements is required to be the same (“uniform”) for commercial and residential properties. This means an increase for residential properties, as described below, and a decrease for commercial properties.

Is the “uniform tax” for residential and commercial properties the only issue?

The rate for the new measure is also calculated to catch up with current costs.  The current BSEP Measure A was aligned with a State-calculated Cost of Living (COLA) which is zero for 2016-17, and has been about 1% in recent years.  This is not keeping pace with actual costs, including the state-mandated employee benefit costs mentioned previously. The District is doing its part to manage costs by making reductions in programs, shifting costs to other resources when available, and adjusting the class size formula.

How much will a homeowner in Berkeley contribute annually in support of BSEP?

Based on a tax of 37 cents per square foot of developed property, a Berkeley home of 1200 square feet would provide $444 per year. This is an increase of about $96/year.  A homeowner (or business owner) with a building that is 1500 sq.ft. would pay $555 per year, and so on.  There is a low-income senior exemption for paying this tax.

How much money is provided by BSEP?

The current projections are that the funds would provide about $28 million for the public schools, beginning in 2017-18, which would be, as it is now, about 20% of the overall budget for the schools. When placed on top of the low state funding, this brings Berkeley to about the nationwide average for school funding.

How are expenditures monitored?

A Planning and Oversight committee, with representatives from every school site, regularly reviews and discusses all plans, budgets and reports.  This is a Brown Act Committee,, and is open to the public. There are also independent external auditors who review the expenditures to ensure that funds are spent and accounted for in accordance with the terms of the measure.

What is the goal for Class Size Reduction in the new measure?

The class size goal for district-operated elementary schools is a school-wide average of 23 across K-5. This will be phased in gradually over the next six years, replacing our current goals of 20 (K-3) and 26 (fourth and fifth grade). The goals for reducing secondary school class sizes remain unchanged: an average of 28 students per class for Middle and High School, and an average of 18 students per class for Continuation programs.

How have Class Size goals changed over time?

When the first BSEP measure was passed in 1986, and again in 1994, the goal for the BSEP funding was to provide enough teachers to have elementary school class sizes of about 26 per class. Beginning in 1996, the state provided a financial incentive for districts to reduce K-3 class sizes to around 20 per class. Berkeley was one of the few districts to reach this goal, thanks to BSEP, but this has been a challenging goal to meet, both budgetarily and due to the jump from third grade classes of 20 to fourth grade classes of 26. This class size configuration is particularly challenging for our small elementary schools, causing them to have to choose between large fourth/fifth grades of 30 or more, or combination grade classes, mixing third/fourth or fourth/fifth grades to reach a class size of 26.

In 2012, the state changed its class size reduction goals from 20:1 in K-3 to 24:1, and began providing lower funding for that target. The District maintained its commitment to the 20:1 size through the end of the current BSEP measure, but that has led to budget shortfalls in some of the other funded programs.

After extensive community conversations, the decision was made to gradually adjust our elementary grades to eliminate the 20/26 imbalance, beginning in the 2017-18 year, with the goal of a achieving a school-wide average class size of 23 by the sixth year of the measure. This means Kindergarten and first grade classes are likely to average around 22, second and third grades around 23, and fourth and fifth grades around 24 per class. Our elementary class sizes are smaller than in almost every other school district in the area.

What is the History of BSEP Measures?

As a qualified special tax, the BSEP measure requires a two-thirds vote to be approved.

Berkeley voters have historically supported local funding for schools by approving BSEP in 1986, 1994, 2004, and 2006, with approval rates ranging from 73% to 85%.

Why is the BSEP Measure on the Ballot for November 2016?

Every BSEP Measure has been written to last for a limited time, in order to ensure that the terms of the measure can adapt to any changing needs or resources. Measure A was approved by voters in 2006 for a period of ten years, so it expires in 2017.

Where can I learn more about BSEP?

The BSEP web page contains links to presentations, papers, and reports. Also, the BSEP Planning and Oversight (P&O) Committee is open to the public, with records available online, including the audit records. In addition to the P&O Committee, there are subcommittees and groups that meet with the budget managers for many of the major purposes of the measure, such as libraries, music, technology, and parent outreach. Every school has a Site Council which meets to review the use of the BSEP School Discretionary Funds, and those meetings are also open to the public. If you are interested in joining or attending a meeting, or just have a question, you are welcome to contact


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