Superintendent Michele Lawrence recommended an initial wave of $3 million in cuts, including the closure of City of Franklin School, in a budget proposal released Friday.
Lawrence, who would trim $1.1 million from the central office, also laid the groundwork for heavy layoffs, which would include more than 100 teachers.
The Board of Education, which needs to cut about $6 million in order to balance the budget next year, will discuss Lawrence’s recovery plan during its Feb. 20 meeting, and is expected to vote on it Feb. 27. The board will not vote on the official 2002-2003 budget until June.
Lawrence has discussed the need for multi-million dollar cuts for weeks, but the proposal still hit school activists and elected officials hard Friday.
“Quite honestly, it’s a bit depressing now,” said school board member John Selawsky. “Seeing the reality of it, it kind of shakes you up.”
Lawrence said recommending the closure of City of Franklin, a K-6 school, was a “very painful” decision. But she said the 3-year-old magnet program has failed to draw an appropriate number of students.
“It’s a school of barely 200 and we can’t afford to run it,” she said. “The overhead, the administrative costs, are just too high.”
The district estimates that closure will save $326,000, plus tens of thousands in transportation costs.
“It’s very upsetting,” said Shay Williams, parent of a first-grader at City of Franklin, arguing that the school should have more time to increase enrollment.
Shirley Issel, president of the Board of Education, said she will seek input in the next two weeks before making a decision on the school’s closure.
“It’s very important to hear from anyone who wants to address the board before I make up my mind,” Issel said.
Lawrence’s budget proposal identifies about 300 positions for potential layoffs, including 70 to 80 “temporary” or beginning teachers employed by the district. The document also targets 20 “permanent” teacher positions in grades four through eight and 12.2 slots at Berkeley High School.
The proposal also names librarians, reading teachers and music instructors among dozens of others who could be laid off.
But the district will not necessarily let go all of the employees on the list. By law, the system must notify certain classes of teachers and administrators by March 15 if it intends to let them go next year.
Lawrence and school board members say they hope to take back some of the lay off notices before the end of the year if they are able to realize additional savings between March 15 and the official June budget vote.
The district is currently pursuing special legislation to forgive a $1.1 million fine owed to the state for failure to turn in a professional development document on time, but Lawrence is not optimistic about forgiveness.
Rick Ayers, an English instructor at BHS, said he is concerned about the layoffs.
“We’re just hoping a lot of good teachers don’t get pushed out by this,” he said, adding that normal resignations and retirements may soften the blow.
“We’re going to keep working as hard as we can to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” Lawrence said.
She added that literacy programs will be a top priority, and noted that librarians and “reading recovery” instructors will be near the top of her list for employees she will attempt to retain.
Selawsky also voiced his strong support for the district’s early literacy program. “We’ve got to save that, from my point of view,” he said.
Lawrence’s proposal also calls for a shift from a seven- to a six-period day at BHS, saving the school eight full-time teaching positions and an estimated $520,000.
Science teachers have expressed concern that the move will reduce or eliminate the school’s successful double-period science program.
Lawrence’s proposal would increase BHS class size from 29 to 31 students, and use the savings to pay for an additional 20 to 30 “flex time” class sections outside the normal six-period day.
Rodney Kopish, a biology teacher at BHS, said he hopes the outside sections will allow for some partial continuation of double-period science.
Lawrence said extra science classes are a possibility, but warned that the flex periods could also be used for leadership classes, orchestra, the school newspaper and other activities.
The superintendent’s reorganization of the central office involves some 35 layoffs, $844,000 in cuts from the business office and $311,000 from the educational services office.
The superintendent would, among other things, fold administration of the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project, a special local tax, into the district’s business office. Until now, BSEP has been administered by a separate, independent body.
Nancy Riddle, co-chair of the BSEP planning and oversight committee, said she has concerns about the loss of independent management of the local tax, which generated about $10 million this year and may only be used for certain purposes, like class size reduction.
“When times are rough, it’s really tempting to dip into restricted funds,” she said, arguing that the shift to district management could lead to a plundering of BSEP funds.
“I have absolutely none of those fears,” Lawrence responded, arguing that her administration will be more careful with district funds than its predecessors. “We know the difference between restricted money and unrestricted money.”