Closure for City of Franklin delayed
The Board of Education, amid strong community opposition, approved $3.8 million in budget cuts recommended by Superintendent Michele Lawrence Wednesday night. The board chopped $1.1 million from the central office, shifted from a seven- to a six-period day at Berkeley High School and increased class sizes.
At Lawrence’s urging, the board tabled a controversial proposal to close City of Franklin school and killed a move to shut down the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project office.
The BSEP office is an independent body that administers a $10 million special tax, used for class size reduction and enrichment. In a Jan. 15 budget proposal, Lawrence recommended folding the excellence project administration into the district’s business office.
BSEP advocates have argued that the office is effective and must remain independent to maintain the support of taxpayers, who are leery of a district with a history of financial mismanagement.
Lawrence acknowledged this concern in retreating from her Jan. 15 recommendation.
“There is a tremendous distrust in this community,” said Lawrence, who just took the reins this year, arguing that it will take time to convince the public of her administration’s fiscal integrity.
Lawrence said she was withdrawing her recommendation to close Franklin because there were too many unanswered questions about the fate of the school’s students and building.
Board Vice President Joaquin Rivera agreed to delay action on Franklin, but suggested he will ultimately support closure, which would save the district an estimated $326,000.
“Postponing the decision is just prolonging the agony,” said Rivera, arguing that the school should be closed because it is underenrolled and racially imbalanced.
“It feels like they’re playing games,” said Jean Townsend, parent of a sixth grader at Franklin in an interview Thursday. “It’s disappointing how they’ve handled the whole thing.”
Board member Terry Doran asked Lawrence to provide a new recommendation on Franklin by the board’s March 13 meeting. In response, the superintendent said she would try to accommodate the request.
In an interview Thursday, Lawrence expanded on her thinking about Franklin. She said the district cannot sustain the underenrolled school as it is. But she suggested that Franklin might remain in the building alongside another program. The district could move another school into the large building, she said, or shift the Independent Study program to the facility.
Several parents and students at Wednesday’s meeting expressed concern about the move to a six-period day, worried that it would cut into the high school’s successful double-period science program and limit the number of electives available.
“Don’t make cuts that will destroy what we have,” said Derick Miller, president of the PTA Council, an umbrella group for the district PTAs.
Miller and other critics at the meeting charged the board with making decisions on the six-period day and other items without a full grasp on the ramifications.
“Please take responsibility,” said Miller. “Ask for the information. Demand the information.”
Board members said they have been asking the superintendent and staff the right questions. But they acknowledged they are making hurried decisions in order to meet a statutory deadline of March 15 to inform employees they might be laid off next year.
Board president Shirley Issel abstained from the vote on the recovery package.
“I do feel like I was lacking a full picture of the impact of the decision we were making on the six-period day,” Issel said. “I just wanted to acknowledge the important concerns of the community.”
The cuts approved Wednesday night include 37 layoffs in the central office and about 25 classroom teachers. But the board, which must cut a total of $6 million to balance next year’s budget, voted to issue layoff notices to about 200 employees total.
The district intends to rescind many of those layoff notices in the coming months as the budget picture becomes clear. Lawrence indicated that the high school athletic director, reading recovery teachers, librarians and music teachers will likely be among those keeping their jobs.
Contact reporter David Scharfenberg at email@example.com