Superintendent Michele Lawrence warned that the Berkeley Unified School District will layoff a significant number of employees next year, and she cast doubt on the fate of an under-enrolled City of Franklin School at a public forum Monday night.
Lawrence, who is seeking $5 to $6 million in cuts in order to balance next year’s budget, added that everything from high school athletics to the number of periods offered at Berkeley High School could be on the chopping block.
“This is big,” said Lawrence, who will propose an initial wave of cuts at the end of the week. “We all have to be prepared for it.”
City of Franklin, currently a K-6 magnet school which is planning to extend to K-8 by 2003, has only 190 students enrolled, while other schools in the area like Jefferson, with 330, are overcrowded.
Lawrence indicated that the district is considering a range of options for better utilizing City of Franklin and the surrounding schools.
Joaquin Rivera, vice president of the Board of Education, got more specific. “Something has to be done in terms of either increasing enrollment, or possibly closing the school,” he said.
Barbara Penny-James, principal of City of Franklin, declined to comment on the possible closure of the school but suggested that a scheduled June upgrade of the facility and the addition of a “dual-immersion” English-Spanish language program in kindergarten next year might attract more students.
School board member John Selawsky said layoffs will happen across-the-board, including laborers, teachers and administrators.
By law, the district must notify certain types of teachers and administrators by March 15 if it intends to lay them off next year. Because the extent of the district’s deficit did not become clear until January, Lawrence and her administrative team have been scrambling in recent weeks to pull together a list of layoffs.
Lawrence said the district will hand deliver a significant number of notices by the March 15 deadline, but said she hopes to withdraw some of those notices by the end of the year, when the school board votes on the 2002-2003 budget.
In order to withdraw the notices, the district would have to identify new savings between March 15 and the end of the year. Currently, the district is lobbying the state to forgive its remaining payments on a $1.1 million penalty for filing a staff development document late.
But, Lawrence emphasized that the district is not counting on help from the state. “They’re not likely to easily forgive,” Lawrence said during Monday night’s meeting.
Selawsky is also pessimistic, noting that the district has been trying to win forgiveness for months.
“If it didn’t happen while the state economy was booming,” he said, “I have a hard time believing it’s going to happen when the state economy is not booming.”
Lawrence floated several other ideas for cuts Monday night, including reductions in the high school athletic program and a cap on the number of periods that BHS students spend in the classroom.
Science teachers and parents have expressed concerns about the cap, fearful that the high school’s successful, 60 year-old, double-period science program will suffer.
In interviews Tuesday, Rivera, Selawsky and board President Shirley Issel said it would painful to cut double-period science, and Rivera said he hopes to retain the program at least a couple of days per week. But ultimately, all three said they would support the cap in order to reduce costs.
School board members Ted Schultz and Terry Doran could not be reached by deadline.
Members of the public who attended Monday’s meeting made plugs for various programs, from special education to music, offered to lobby the state on the fine forgiveness and expressed outrage at the district’s past fiscal management.
Carole Bloomstein, librarian at Longfellow Middle School, said the district has been talking about the same financial problems, ranging from faulty payroll systems to improper management of its vacation system, for years and has not made progress.
“I want to believe,” said Bloomstein, referring to hopes that the current administration will right the ship. “Why should we believe?”
Lawrence said she will work to make the budget process more transparent so that the public can hold administrators more accountable.
The superintendent will discuss the rationale for her initial wave of proposed cuts at the school board’s Feb. 20 meeting. The board will likely vote on the layoffs and a reorganization of the central office at its Feb. 27 meeting.