Community support saved an innovative cooking and gardening program that faced closure last spring, but only leftovers remain after the Berkeley Unified School District cut two-thirds of the budget. 

“Even the chickens in the garden were given away because no one was left to tend them,” said Daria Wrubel of the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees. Wrubel taught gardening to 450 students at Thousand Oaks Elementary before she and more than half the classified staff were cut.

“Out of a district with 9,000 students, we had 1,000 families contact the school board in support of the program, “ she said. “We just don’t know where the rest of the money is going to come from.”

Even though the program has expanded to all 18 Berkeley schools, only 13 of 29 classified staff remain, and most have had hours reduced or work at several schools to make up for lost time.

The board approved $600,000 in bridge funding over two years, a third of the previous $1.8 million budget. Supporters plan to raise an additional $600,000. 

The district also authorized $50,000 for a fundraising consultant and hired a supervisor with fundraising experience. Supporters are examining similar programs around the country for ways to save money.