Board of Education Meeting 02/10/10

Board of Education meeting 02/10/10

Board of Education meeting 02/10/10

Board of Education meeting 02/10/10

Board of Education meeting 02/10/10

The multipurpose room at LoVonya DeJean Middle School was packed when this meeting began, so much so that some people had to stand in the entryway.  There were about 300 people in attendance, including large numbers of adult education supporters holding signs. The Univision truck was parked right outside, and the Univision reporter stayed for a large portion of the meeting, doing interviews and filming the procedings. When he left, he remarked that he was surprised that other media were not there as well, but as it turned out a reporter from the West County Times was also at the meeting doing interviews.  The West Contra Costa Board of Education meeting was the lead story on the Channel 14 news at 11:00 that night.

Superintendant Harter reported the results of the Community Budget Meetings that were held in El Sobrante, Pinole, Hercules, Richmond, El Cerrito and San Pablo over the past two weeks.  The report is now available on the district website at http://wccusd.net. There is a link to it right on the home page. 

At the  Community Budget Meetings, the participants were given a voting machine (except at Downer, where some paper ballots had to be used because the voting machines ran out), and were asked to respond to a series of questions about ways the district might save money to make up a $10 million deficit.  There were two questions about adult education on the survey. The report showed that Question 7, “Would you advise eliminating all State funded Adult Ed to save $2.5 million for the K-12 program?”  was voted down at all but one of the 6 meetings.  It did barely win in Hercules.  At the five meetings where the idea went down to defeat, it was very unpopular, especially in the Richmond/San Pablo area where most of adult education’s services are concentrated, with the LoVonya DeJean and Downer communities voting the idea down by 85% and 90% respectively. It is perhaps not surprising that Hercules voted to eliminate adult education, since adult education delivers  few services there. 

However, in response to  Question 8, “Would you advise increasing Adult Ed class sizes and eliminating some other classes and programs in Adult Ed to save $1 million for k-12?”, most communities voted “yes” , with Downer being the exception.  The report shows the idea winning very narrowly at LoVonya DeJean, but those results had to be reconstituted via email because the original data was lost, so this result may not reflect the actual vote.  In El Cerrito, Pinole, Hercules and El Sobrante the idea won by large margins.

Those of us who work in adult education find the wording of Question 8 puzzling , because class sizes in adult education are not capped the way K-12 class sizes are.  Essentially, the maximum size of an adult education class is limited only by the capacity of the classroom, and many adult education classes are now at capacity according to this standard. .  We can only guess that what is really meant here is that the district plans to increase the minimum size of an adult school class so that it can justify closing more adult school classes because they are “too small”.  This would more often result in the elimination of classes than in consolidation, because many adult school classes are one of a kind; if the class is canceled, there is no other class for students to attend.  Also adult school classes often serve students with low mobility. If the class in their neighborhood is canceled, they cannot get to another. Participants in the Community Budget Meetings may not have understood that they were most likely voting to eliminate classes altogether, rather than  consolidate them to make larger classes.  

Another problem with Question 8 is that by placing “increasing Adult Ed class sizes” at the beginning of the sentence, whoever wrote the question implies that this will be the biggest source of cuts.  In fact, it will be the smallest source.  The biggest source is placed near the end of the sentence, like an afterthought, in the words “and programs”.  It is through the elimination of entire adult education programs upon which vulnerable populations rely that the district plans to save one million dollars. And the district knew exactly which programs it planned to eliminate. The information has been right there on their website for some time, though it is not easy to get to.  But district personnel would not divulge this information at the Community Budget Meetings, instead stating that the decision would be left to adult education administrators and refusing to get more specific.  So when the El Cerrito Community voted “yes” on Question 8, did they know that they were voting to lose services for  older adult services at Christ Lutheran Senior Center and  St. John’s Senior Center? Did they know they were voting to lose  services to Alzheimers’ patients at  El Cerrito Open House?  Did El Sobrante know they were voting to end adult school services at St. Callistus Senior Care? Perhaps they would have voted the same way if they had known, but they were not given the information.

After Dr. Harter completed his report regarding the results of the Community Budget Meetings, Associate Superintendant of Business Services Sheri Gamba presented a report about the budget. This report is also available on the district website, with a link to it on the home page . The report included recommendations which appeared to be based on the results of the Community Budget Meetings, at least in the case of adult education.  The report recommended a reduced adult education program which would leave the “core program” in place.  The core program was defined as Adult Basic Education, CAHSEE Prep, High School Diploma/GED, English as a Second Language and Citizenship.  The report did not name the programs that would presumably be eliminated because they are not part of the “core”.  You had to be familiar with all of the adult school’s programs to notice that Older Adults, Adults with Disabilities and Parent Education were not included in the description of the “core” programs and are thus presumably to be eliminated.

Seventy people signed up to address the board about the budget during the public comment period.  Because of the large number of speakers, everyone was given one minute to speak. Board President Madeleine Kronenberg noted that 70 speakers was a lot, and  and asked people to  refrain from speaking if they heard someone else say the same thing they wanted to say. Ms. Kronenberg’s anxiety about time was of course understandable, but when one is listening to public concerns, the fact that something comes up repeatedly is also information — information that the board would not have gotten if people complied with Ms. Kronenberg’s request.  It was, of course, impossible to tell if people did comply. In the end 60 people spoke, and Board member Antonio Medrano noted that 48 of them spoke in support of adult education.

In addition to adult school students and teachers, many members of the community came to speak on behalf of adult education, including Father Ramiro Flores of St. Mark Catholic Church, Maria Alegria of  Faithworks and Richmond Vision 2000, Vice Mayor of San Pablo Genoveva Calloway, Kelli Cochran-Barram of the  J.O. Ford Community Schools Grant  and Roberto Reyes of the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council and the United Way. 

During Board comment, Charles Ramsey stated that he would not vote on the budget until the board had reviewed the budget line-by-line in a day long meeting.  Mr. Ramsey also admonished the supporters of adult education about coming to board meetings, saying that the board can’t do anything for them and that they should get involved in electoral politics and look for other ways to save adult education instead. 

Board Member Antonio Medrano thanked the supporters of adult education for coming to the meeting.  He went on to say  that he supports adult education, but also supports the reductions to the program recommended in the Budget Report.

Board President Madeleine Kronenberg, along with all other Board members suggested that supporters of adult education get involved in electoral politics, especially an upcoming state initiative that would make it easier to pass a parcel tax at the local level.  She recommended that interested people could visit her own blog at http://adulteducaton-solutions.blogspot.com and the website www.improvedschoolfunding.com for more information and ideas.

Board member Tony Thurmond, while voicing strong support for adult education, added that the community could also support a state initiative that would make it more difficult for the state to take money from local governments, thus strengthening education.

Charles Ramsey, during his comments suggesting that supporters of adult education  become involved in elections instead of coming to Board of Education meetings, appeared to assume that  the adult education community (teachers, students and supporters) currently does not participate in elections.  This would seem to be an unfair assumption, based on the fact that many of the people who spoke on behalf of adult education at the meeting are very politically active in the community and some were even elected officials. Students in the older adult program, which is to be eliminated according to the planned reductions to adult education, regularly volunteer as poll workers on election day, according to their teachers.  Mr. Ramsey went into some detail about all the ways supporters of adult education should participate in elections, but he did not elaborate on why he thinks they do not already do so.

Mr. Ramsey also appeared to assume that supporters of adult education are not taking any action except coming to board meetings.  In reality, people present at the meeting had also been taking many other actions, as follows:

Lisa Raffel of Catholic Charities of the East Bay was present that night.  Ms. Raffel took the lead in getting a grant from Chevron that allowed Catholic Charities to take over three of the adult school’s English as a Second Language classes this year, saving the district thousands of dollars.  Because of this accomplishment, Ms. Raffel was honored as a Friend of Adult Education by the California Council on Adult Educatin (CCAE) at a ceremony that took place the following day.

Kelli Cochran-Barram of the Ford Community Schools Grant was also present.  When Ms. Cochran-Barram found that the adult school was unable to open an ESL class for the Ford parents, she found a way to fund the class through other sources.

Numerous people present that night, including adult education students and teachers,helped put together and participated in a Save Adult Education Summit the weekend before.  Out of this summit came both a Fundraising and a Political Committee, both of which will continue to meet on an ongoing basis to look for solutions to the crisis of adult education.

With all due respect to Mr. Ramsey, while we appreciate the advice on other ways we could work to save adult education in West County and will doubtless follow up on them, we can’t stop coming to Board of Education meetings.  The Board needs to hear from the public if it is to make wise decisions.  We need to have a large presence at the March 3 meeting, where the Board will actually be making decisions about the budget.

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