Board reviews fiscal recovery plan, approves personnel changes
Dozens of bilingual education supporters turned out at the Board of Education meeting Wednesday night to oppose the combination of fourth- and fifth-grade Spanish-English classrooms at two elementary schools, and warn against closure of a bilingual nursery school. Superintendent Michele Lawrence said no decisions have been made on either issue.
Lawrence emphasized that no decision has been made about combining the fourth- and fifth-grade “dual immersion” classes at Cragmont and Rosa Parks elementary schools, but suggested the financially-strapped district might make the move to cut costs.
The dual immersion program, beginning in kindergarten and running through fifth grade, begins with a heavy dose of Spanish-language instruction and a small amount of English. Every year, the amount of English increases until, by fourth and fifth grade, instruction is half-English and half-Spanish.
Lawrence said no one in the central office had come to her with a proposal to close Franklin Nursery School, a 30-year-old, bilingual, half-day preschool program that served 52 students this year. She said she would fully examine the program’s finances before any decisions are made.
Parents said John Santoro, administrator for the district’s early childhood education department, has projected an $8,000 deficit for the nursery next year and suggested that closure is an option.
“It is an outrage to know that this is a possibility,” said parent Christina Franco. “The school is much too precious to close its doors.”
After the meeting, Santoro told the Planet that escalating costs and insufficient state funding had, indeed, created a projected $8,000 deficit. But he said he would not recommend closure.
“It’s a great program,” Santoro said.
Still, he said the fate of the nursery is ultimately up to the school board.
If the district keeps the program running, Santoro suggested three options for restoring solvency next year – sharing children and staff with other agencies, keeping the school open for more days to draw more state funding and cutting expenditures.
However, he said he has concerns each of these options. Keeping the nursery open longer, for instance, while increasing state funding would also boost administrative costs. Cutting expenditures is also problematic, Santoro said, since he has already made reductions this year.
The administrator also warned that the state might reduce funding next year, after a routine tri-annual review, if the program does not keep its enrollment figures up.
Lawrence said underenrollment is also an issue in the bilingual classrooms at Cragmont and Rosa Parks. She said it is not a concern for LeConte Elementary School’s dual-immersion program, squashing rumors of a third- and fourth-grade combination class at that school next year.
Lawrence provided the Planet with figures projecting that enrollment in the fourth- and fifth-grade dual immersion classes at Rosa Parks next year will be 18 and 21 students respectively, below the district’s target of 28 per classroom.
She said the district could draw more students from regular education classes into dual immersion to boost cost-efficiency or combine the two grades.
But parents strongly objected to the notion of combination. Martha Cain, president of the LeConte Parent Teacher Association, said the district should give the relatively new dual immersion program a chance to succeed before combining grades and putting it in jeopardy.
“Give this model a chance to see if it works,” Cain said.
Board members Terry Doran, John Selawsky and Joaquin Rivera, while acknowledging the $2.8 million deficit the district faces next year, voiced support for dual immersion.
“I have always been and will continue to be an advocate and strong supporter of the dual immersion program,” Doran said.
Fiscal recovery plan
The board also reviewed a fiscal recovery plan designed to win county approval of the 2002-2003 budget, despite the fact that the district will carry a $2.8 million deficit into next year.
The plan, as expected, included a call to sell off district property or raise class size, as last resorts, if the board cannot make enough staffing and programmatic cuts next year to balance the books.
Board member Terry Doran said he supports the plan, but wondered aloud about the prospects of county approval. Associate Superintendent of Business Jerry Kurr said he is optimistic about approval, noting that County Superintendent Sheila Jordan is an elected official and would be unlikely to reject the budget and call for immediate, drastic cuts.
The county rejected this year’s budget last fall, finding that the district’s figures did not add up.
The board also approved several personnel changes. Rebecca Cheung, former principal of Emerson Elementary, will serve as principal of Longfellow Arts and Technology Middle School. Susan Hodge, a teacher at Emerson Elementary School will take over as interim principal for a year.
In the central office, Kenneth Jacopetti, former principal of Delta Vista Middle School in the Oakley Union School District in Contra Costa County will serve as Director of Pupil Support Services, a newly-created position. Jacopetti will oversee special education, student enrollment, attendance and discipline.
Song Chin-Bendib, former Director of Fiscal Services for the Tamalpais Unified School District in Marin County, will take the same post with Berkeley Unified.