California University Comes to Richmond's Aid
Faced with a textbook example of a school district in trouble, faculty and students at the University of California at Berkeley have dropped the textbooks and come to the aid of the Richmond Unified School District.
Some 55 faculty members have volunteered to help with staff development at the district's high schools under a new university-outreach effort.
Meanwhile, about 170 graduate students have offered to be mentors and tutors for the district's students, and more volunteers are joining the effort at a rate of 40 or more a week, district and university officials said.
Vice Chancellor John L. Heilbron spurred the effort in early December when he sent a letter to professors and graduate students requesting that they help the district, which was placed under state receivership last year after it filed for bankruptcy and was given a court-ordered, $19-million bailout loan from the state.
The letter triggered response throughout the campus, even among the employees in the mailroom who distributed it, officials said.
"Frankly, it has been a real blessing for the district to get the caliber of people and the expertise that they have from the university," said Fred J. Stewart, who was appointed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig to administer the district's finances.
The university plans to expand the program this spring by using volunteers to provide enrichment programs in the sciences and humanities to help compensate for regular programs that were cut back. In no case, however, will the volunteers replace teachers who have been laid off, university officials said.
Other Help Coming
Paul K. Ehara, a spokesman for the district, said other institutions of higher education plan to offer assistance. In addition, district employees will be offered staff development this week by the Bay Area Science and Technology Collaboration, made up of four national energy laboratories that are seeking to improve science instruction in schools.
The district's school beard last week was considering a five-year financial recovery plan, developed by Mr. Stewart, that called for tight budgets and a new local property tax.
Mr. Stewart gave the board until Feb. 26 to decide on the plan, which was ordered by a superior-court judge and still must be approved by Mr. Honig and the state controller.
The plan calls for a $2.1-million cut in the current fiscal year's budget.
In addition, the board has placed a measure on the ballot in April calling for an annual tax levy of $60 per parcel of property for four years.
The tax measure states that revenue from the new tax must be targeted, in order of priority, on restoring the six-period day to all middle and junior high schools; partially restoring basic education in high school or a college-preparatory program and safety support services; improving English and science programs in elementary schools; and partially restoring salaries for district personnel, which were cut by 9 percent during the 1990-91 fiscal year.