Farewell Javetta Cleveland – Changing of the Guard at BUSD

Javetta Cleveland, who retired Sept. 1 as Deputy Superintendent of Business and Operations, says good-bye to fellow managers on Aug. 11: “I’ll always have Berkeley in my heart and all of you I’ve worked with.” Photos: Charles Burress

More than a few eyes welled up with tears as Berkeley Unified School District staff and Board Members bid farewell to valued colleague Javetta Cleveland.

Ms. Cleveland was the longest-serving currently employed senior leader before she resigned as Deputy Superintendent of Business and Operations effective Sept. 1 to take on a similar role at Natomas Unified School District in Sacramento, closer to her home and family.

In her decade of service to Berkeley schools, Ms. Cleveland won gratitude not only for her many remarkable accomplishments, including restoration of the District’s financial health and wise fiscal guidance that saved millions of dollars. She was admired also for dedication to employee well-being and her unwavering focus on our highest priority – our students.

“We were inspired by her,” Board President Ty Alper said in farewell remarks during a recent School Board appreciation of her contributions. “We have been educated by her. We trust her judgment so much (that) ‘What would Javetta do?’ has been our guiding principle for a long time and will continue to be.”

Board Member Karen Hemphill alluded to a shared belief among the Board’s peers “that you are the best chief financial officer in the State of California.” And Board Member Judy Appel said Ms. Cleveland served BUSD with “incredible integrity” and “always with an eye to what’s going to best serve our kids.”

Among her achievements highlighted by BUSD colleagues was raising the District’s credit rating from A+ to AA+/AAA, saving District taxpayers over $8 million in interest over the life of the facilities bonds through refinancing. She also went out of her way to initiate and improve programs and initiatives to foster better employee relations, morale and even health, including the annual “WE CARE Awards” and fun fitness challenges.

Responsible for overseeing several departments – including Fiscal Services, Human Resources, Facilities, Nutrition Services, Transportation and Technology – she also successfully negotiated all union contracts as a lead and co-lead negotiator during her 10 years, maintained a balanced budget, implemented new systems in fiscal systems and the benefits department, established an annual team-building meeting for classified employees and provided strategic planning for the latest iteration of the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP), among many other contributions.

“So many individuals in Berkeley care deeply about education,” Ms Cleveland noted. “Only in Berkeley would we hold a budget presentation, and the room would be filled with parents. And some of the community members were involved for many years, even after their children graduated. The Audit Committee, the Superintendent Budget Advisory Committee, the Construction Bond Oversight Committee, and BSEP Planning & Oversight provided many important suggestions that came to fruition during my years in Berkeley.”

“I enjoyed working with staff on all levels in Berkeley. The ‘all classified employee’ meetings I started in January and continued each year were one of my favorite events. The relationship with our bargaining units was always important to me. We didn’t always agree, but there was always room for a full discussion of all the issues and the ability to come to an agreement.”

“This is definitely bittersweet for me,” Ms. Cleveland told the Board. “I’m very passionate about education,” she added, alluding to continued working and thinking about her job long after the normal work day ended. “Behind all that has been the students (who) were definitely at the forefront. I gave a decade of my life here mainly because of Berkeley’s passion for education and the support of the community, the employees and the School Board to try to help the students that were most in need.”

The comments of Board Members and Ms. Cleveland about her departure can be heard in the Board meeting video, beginning at 13:02 of the recording.

Pauline Follansbee, who served as the BUSD Director of Fiscal Services, has been appointed Interim Assistant Superintendent of Business Services and will take on many of Ms. Cleveland’s former duties.

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