The Berkeley Unified School District board unanimously voted to renew the city’s first and only charter school at its meeting Wednesday night.
Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Pasquale Scuderi and Deputy Superintendent of Business Services Javetta Cleveland evaluated Revolutionary Education and Learning Movement, or REALM, middle and high school’s academics and finances and in order to determine whether the school will be successful in the future. In light of their findings, they conditionally recommended that the charter be renewed, despite REALM’s recent troubles acquiring sufficient funding.
Several parents at the meeting also urged the board to renew the charter, expressing that REALM addressed their children’s individual needs, helping them to improve academically and socially.
“As a parent with a special needs child, you always think about what is the best school for her and what is the best environment for her,” said Patricia Camacho, an Emeryville resident whose daughter attends REALM, during public comment. “I found a miracle in REALM middle school.”
Scuderi noted that REALM meets multiple goals for personalization, college readiness and graduation rates. He also called the school’s “diversified” curriculum “more inclusive than traditionally Eurocentric content.”
“By and large, we were very impressed with caliber of instruction that we saw on our visits,” Scuderi said at the meeting.
Cleveland, however, expressed concerns regarding the school’s financial status.
A year after its opening in August 2011, REALM Charter faced financial troubles due to significant deferrals in state funding. By the end of the 2014-15 school year, REALM middle school had a budget deficit of $841,551 and REALM high school had a deficit of $174,639.
Board member Karen Hemphill called the state of REALM Charter’s finances “deeply concerning” and questioned the responsibility of the district to support its renewal considering that only 15 percent of its students are actually Berkeley residents.
REALM’s administration plans to counteract these deficits through budget cuts, specifically through reductions in staff, food costs, materials and texts, after-school coordinators and operational costs.
“The cuts are appropriate and manageable and they won’t affect the school community,” said Victor Diaz, executive director of REALM Charter.
But according to Cleveland, even with the cuts, the school will not reach a stable financial situation soon enough.
“In order to be a successful school, it is extremely important that REALM resolve their cash flow issues not by (the 2018-19 school year) as they project, but by (the 2016-17 school year),” Cleveland said.
Diaz said that REALM Charter plans to raise money through grants, but because the success of this fundraising is not guaranteed, Cleveland did not include potential grant money in her projections of the school’s financial future.
Board member Josh Daniels expressed that REALM Charter is important to the Berkeley community.
“The great thing about having a charter school is that we can learn from REALM’s successes and integrate them into our schools and vice versa,” Daniels said.