Thursday, March 13, 2008 | Four years ago, politicians cut a red ribbon at Marie Curie Elementary to celebrate its new library, a freestanding building crisply painted plum, blue and white. Today, principal Chris Juarez struggles to pay for the single person who staffs it.
Tuesday, as a gaggle of fourth graders awaited their turn to borrow “American Girl” books, a girl could be overheard goading two friends to help save the library. Maybe they could sell lemonade, she suggested.
Sitting in the shadow of the University of California, San Diego, Curie doesn’t look like a school at risk. While other San Diego public schools scrape for students, Curie has a waiting list; its test scores are among the highest in San Diego Unified. Unlike other schools, it has relatively few low-income students, and only a small fraction are learning English.
Ironically, it’s exactly those factors that worsen Curie’s standing as state budget cuts jeopardize San Diego schools. Schools with many high-need students get extra federal funding, aimed at closing the achievement gap. Curie lacks those resources, which may help other schools blunt the state cuts.
Curie Elementary offers a window into how the state’s budget crunch, debated in drab government chambers, could impact the children and teachers of one school. If budget cuts become reality, this is the new Curie Elementary: a school where a plush new library goes unstaffed, nurses and counselors are absent and teachers see their per-student supply budget drop from $250 to $100.
Budget cuts threaten to halve the funds that Juarez uses to pay for counselors, nurses, classroom aides and custodians. Asked to shave more than $125,000 from his University City school, Juarez reluctantly cut nine non-teacher positions, leaving four employees out of work, and four working shorter hours. Only two were left untouched.