Berkeley established its first school in 1879 and has been dedicated to providing the best education possible for its children ever since. A city of nearly 105,000 people, Berkeley is rich in racial, cultural and linguistic diversity and is home to the University of California, Berkeley campus, which brings great diversity and enrichment to the city.
The Berkeley Unified School District provides an educational program for preschoolers through adults, with twelve elementary schools, three middle schools, a fully accredited high school including alternative high school programs, and an adult school. Diversity is the primary value in our community. With its schools fully integrated since 1968, Berkeley has been a pioneer and leader in educational policy regarding voluntary desegregation.
In 1986 Berkeley voters passed a special tax which allows the Berkeley Unified School District to lower class size, provide enrichment in areas selected by the individual schools, provide additional instructional materials and maintain its buildings and grounds. This tax measure, which funds Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP), was renewed in 1994 to also fund elementary instrumental music. It is BSEP which has allowed Berkeley Schools to take advantage of the Governor’s Class Size Reduction Program and to reduce class sizes to 20 to 1 in kindergarten through third grade without having to cut other programs.
In 1992 Berkeley voters also passed a $158 million General Obligation Bond measure to fund school building projects. Since then the Berkeley Unified School District has been rebuilding, retrofitting and repairing schools throughout the district to make them seismically safe and to provide an attractive school environment conducive to learning. In 2000 another General Obligation Bond was approved to continue the facility safety and repair program ($116,500). At the same time, voters approved a special tax which generates approximately $4 million per year (for 12 years) to improve maintenance systems and establish a long-term plan to maintain Berkeley schools.
In 1993, after much community study and discussion, the School Board voted to change the district’s grade configuration to a K-5, 6-8 (middle school), 9-12 system, with controlled choice of schools at the elementary and middle school levels. Through the controlled choice systems, parents can choose a school for their children as long as racial integration is maintained throughout the district.
Berkeley voters again showed their support for Berkeley’s children when they passed two new measures in November 2000. Measure AA provides for $116.5 million in general obligation funds to continue the facility construction program begun with the 1992 bond. In addition, Measure BB provides nearly $4 million a year for twelve years (2000-2012) to fund general maintenance and was renewed by the voters with the overwhelming passage of another ten year maintenance parcel tax – Measure H of 2010 (which replaces Measure BB in 2013). Berkeley’s Measure BB/Measure H are landmark parcel taxes for our school district because the funding serves to protect the community investment in newly constructed schools.