SoMa campus likely to expand

A plan to expand a South of Market elementary school that largely serves Filipino families into a K-8 campus appears to be headed for school board approval Tuesday.

Bessie Carmichael Elementary is the only school in the district with a Tagalog bilingual program. In recent years, parents and staff, who say they want to keep their students sheltered in theTagalog language and Filipino community, have asked the district to allow students to remain enrolled past fifth grade, into the middle school years.

Last year, Bessie Carmichael's principal submitted a proposal that suggested the school be expanded to accommodate two classrooms for sixth-grade students with an eventual plan to move them up through to the eighth grade by the fall of 2007. Lacking a firm facilities expansion plan, the school board voted only to allow the sixth-grade class to remain at the school, but there is no room on the existing campus to provide classrooms for next year's seventh grade.

Expanding the school would cost approximately $500,000 for one-time facility improvements, according to district officials. In addition, they estimate an additional $220,000 would be spent each year to run the expanded school.

Although the plan to expand Bessie Carmichael was approved by three school board committees that oversee district finances, facilities and curriculum, several school board members told The Examiner that they have reservations about approving the expansion at a time when the district is facing financial uncertainty and declining enrollment. Within the past year, the board has voted to close six schools and merge four others into two sites.

“I don't think we have the money to do it; it doesn't make any sense to follow through on it,” board member Dan Kelly said. “But we've started down this path by allowing the kids to stay there.”

Board Vice President Sarah Lipson noted that if the district derailed the plan, the sixth-grade students would be dispersed to start next year at different middle schools, where their peers would have the advantage of already having familiarized themselves with the school and each other during this year.

“We need to finish the commitment we made last year. It's the right thing to do,” Lipson said.

Bessie Carmichael parent Teresa Dulalas, who has a son and a daughter in the school's sixth-grade class this year, said she's counting on the board to vote for the expansion.

“I don't want them to be jumping to other schools. I want them to keep building relationships [at Bessie Carmichael],” Dulalas said. “We're Filipino-Americans; it has to do with identity and culture.”

beslinger@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocalneighborhoods

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