Members of the Board of Education say they are poised to close City of Franklin School, lay off the security manager at Berkeley High School and move to a six-period day at BHS, endorsing many of the key budget cuts identified by Superintendent Michele Lawrence in a $3 million package released Friday.
School board members were more ambivalent about proposed cuts to the school libraries, the reading recovery program, high school athletics, and the seven-period day at Longfellow middle school.
The board will consider Lawrence’s $3 million budget cut proposal tonight and will vote on it Feb. 28. The board must cut a total of about $6 million to balance next year’s budget, and will likely rely upon heavy, district-wide layoffs to make up the difference.
“Closing a school is probably one of the hardest decisions to make for a school district,” said school board member Terry Doran, discussing the City of Franklin closure, which would save the district an estimated $326,000. “On the other hand, it’s our smallest school. It’s not attracting people as much as we hoped and desired.”
Lawrence and school board members have argued that the magnet school is underenrolled and has attracted a largely African-American population, making it racially unbalanced.
City of Franklin advocates say the school should have more time to increase enrollment and diversify its student body. But school board members say the district cannot afford to keep the school open.
“It’s too bad they don’t have two or three more years to get the school up and running properly,” said board member Ted Schultz. “But we’re in a budget pinch.”
Board members also endorsed cutting BHS security manager Barry Wiggan, despite ongoing concerns about student safety on campus. Administrative duties would be handled by two recently-appointed “deans of discipline.”
“I can see that working,” said board President Shirley Issel, discussing the shift of responsibility to the deans.
“I think it’s great,” added Laura Menard, a parent who has long been critical of security operations at the high school. “I think the security personnel and plan need to be completely redesigned and redeveloped.”
Wiggan declined to comment.
Board members are also supportive of Lawrence’s proposal to hold BHS students, who in many cases take seven periods or more, to six periods, saving the district an estimated $520,000.
Science teachers have raised concerns that the cap will eliminate a successful double-period science program.
Lawrence has budgeted for 20 to 30 “flex periods” outside the normal day. The superintendent and members of the board have held out the possibility of using those periods for double-period science, but it appears increasingly unlikely that they will.
Lawrence and Issel have suggested that many of the periods will be used for other activities, such as the student newspaper and leadership courses, and Doran said the program may be too expensive to retain.
“Our science program probably offers the highest quality science education in the state, and it’s hard to dismantle that,” said Doran. “The question becomes, can we afford it at this time?”
Rodney Kopish, a science teacher at BHS, said he was “very disappointed” by the possibility that flex time might not be used for double-period science.
“Given the dismantling they want to do of our department,” he said, “you’d think they’d find a middle ground.”
Lawrence has also proposed reducing by one level those high school sports that currently field three levels of teams – typically freshman, junior varsity and varsity – for a savings of $34,500. Doran said he hopes to keep the full sports program running.
“I’m a strong supporter of the athletic program,” he said. “I think it’s a valuable tool – it helps keep students enrolled in the school.”
Lawrence’s plan includes librarian layoffs at the middle school and high school levels.
“We’re always the first ones to be chopped,” said Carole Bloomstein, librarian at Longfellow middle school, arguing that students would lose valuable literacy support if she were let go.
But Lawrence and members of the school board have made it clear that, if they can find savings elsewhere, retaining librarians and reading recovery teachers, also on list, are top priorities.
Schultz added that he will try to save the seven-period day at Longfellow middle school and at some point expand it to the other middle schools in the district.
Lawrence estimates that eliminating the seventh period at Longfellow would save the district $221,000.