Budget Cuts May Cause Closure Of Berkeley Magnet School

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While members of the City of Franklin Microsociety Magnet School in Berkeley are distressed about the school's likely closure, most agree it is students who will be hit hardest.

The school, set up as a miniature city, mimics a real-world society of companies and stores. Students earn a "salary" that can be spent to rent desks or buy goods in the marketplace.

First grade teacher Todd Marsden said the community will be broken up if the program ends.

"All the work that we have put in and the relationships that have been built between the students and the staff will be lost," he said.

Marsden said he believes the transition will be very difficult for students.

"I think it's particularly hard on the students because they will lose their friends; they will lose their sense of belonging," he said.

Principal Barbara Penny-James said the school and the district are already thinking of ways to make the transition "as humane and smooth for kids as possible."

Parent Marissa Saunders expressed her discontent with the possibility of closure, as well as

gratitude for the program, at last Wednesday's school board meeting.

"City of Franklin is the best thing that happened to my daughter," she said.

Superintendent Michele Lawrence has recommended closing the school because it fails to attract a large enough number of students to be cost-efficient. It currently has about 200 students, the lowest out of the district's 12 elementary schools. The others accommodate 400 students each.

"The size of our schools is a beauty for us, but also a curse, because they are much more expensive to run than larger schools," Lawrence said.

But the school has been working on increasing its size. Started three years ago as K-5, the magnet program grew in the 2001-02 school year with the addition of sixth grade, and has resolved to add seventh and eighth grade in the near future.

Students at the school go on field trips to observe their pretend jobs in actuality and learn how to apply classroom-learned skills in real-life activities, such as filling out job applications and writing resumes.

"It's a wonderful model, and it represents a more relevant way of delivering skills," Penny-James said. "The goal, of course, is to have (students) know what their options are and have a better idea of how things work in the real world, which gives a brighter future to everyone."

Mardsen said the school would be happy to have the chance to build and become cost-efficient. But balancing the budget cannot wait for the school, said Berkeley Board of Education President Shirley Issel.

"We're in a situation when we can't afford to give them the additional time that they need," Issel said.

Spokesperson Marian Magid said closing City of Franklin will save the district over $300,000, a significant portion of the necessary $6 million total budget cut.

"Meetings have been held for several weeks to look at the best ways of erasing the budget deficit. As in the case of every recommendation, all options have been considered," she said.

A meeting for teachers, students, parents and officials will be held Monday night at the school, and the board will vote on the issue Wednesday.

Some of the district's programs may suffer great losses, but there is no other way to balance the budget, Lawrence said.

"We can't have small elementary schools, an unlimited number of periods for high school students to take, and the richest athletic program in the state. You can't have everything," Lawrence said.


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