Berkeley High Faces Schedule, Budget-Related Modifications

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Berkeley High School students will likely face schedule changes for the next academic year, because spending cuts are needed to balance the budget.

Because of the $5 million budget shortfall facing the Berkeley Unified School District, the Board of Education will review several proposals to make necessary cuts in the next few months, said spokesperson Marian Magid.

At last Wednesday's board meeting, Berkeley High School Co-Principal Laura Leventer presented a way to cut spending by reducing the number of classes each student is allowed to take to six periods a day and by maintaining an average class size of 32 students.

"(Currently) we have students taking a wide range of periods, from four to six to eight," Leventer said.

By reducing the maximum course load for students, the school would save money with fewer teacher hours.

Leventer's calculations show that yearly savings from the six class maximum would be at least $370,500 if the board maintained all support staff, including department heads, librarians and athletics staff.

School administrators are, however, contemplating reducing the size of the support staff. Without any support services, the savings would total $747,500, Leventer said.

By generating sample class schedules for students at various achievement levels, Leventer demonstrated that most will be able to meet graduation requirements in a six-period day.

Limiting each student to six periods a day, however, may harm the Advanced Placement science program on which Berkeley High prides itself, Magid said.

"Our students rank among the top in the state on the Golden State Science Examinations," said Kathryn Levenson, a former science teacher at the school. "Especially when California is ranked second from the bottom in science achievement in the country-only Hawaii is lower-we can be proud of our achievements in science at (Berkeley High)."

AP science courses require two periods to allow adequate time for labs, and most students taking these courses take a seven-period day. That would be precluded under Leventer's proposal, prompting school officials to try to accommodate the program in other ways.

Boardmember Joaquin Rivera acknowledged that one 55-minute period does not suffice for a good laboratory session. He suggested intermediate solutions, such as cutting the double period while implementing a once-a-week extended lab period.

Superintendent Michelle Lawrence said that in light of the budget problems, it would be unfair to keep double-period science classes at the expense of students who do not take those courses.

"I want a balanced program that will raise the bar for all students," Lawrence said.

Magid said Lawrence seemed to favor a six-period day during a discussion that followed Leventer's presentation.

"But this is just a piece of everything that will be considered by the board," Magid said.

During the discussion, some expressed concern that freshman programs are not as rigorous as other classes and that seniors tend to take less than six periods a day.

"I got the strong impression that there would be discussion (at future meetings) of strengthening the ninth-grade program as well as having seniors take a full day," Magid said.

All suggested schedule changes are now mere prospects, however, Magid said.

"No decisions have been made, and the board and the superintendent are just looking at all the options they have to balance the budget with the least effect on students in the classroom," she said.


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