2 Million Plus Found, Nothing For Adult Education

At a special Budget Workshop session with the Board of Education on March 15, the district found more than two million dollars that it could use to balance its budget. However,  none of this money will be used to prevent another $1 million dollar cut to adult education, which has already been cut by three million. Charles Ramsey is convinced that adult school students will have no trouble paying for classes because he has seen nice cars in the parking lot of an adult school. This and similar reasons were given for maintaining further cuts to adult education. District assistance for the Older Adult program, which may be eliminated due to the further budget reductions, consists of locating city Parks and Recreation classes seniors might use instead.  This was an informational session only, meaning the board did not actually vote on the budget, but the tone of the discussion indicated that decisions were being made tonight, to be formally ratified when the budget does come up for a vote on either March 24 or April 14. For a more detailed account of this meeting, read on.

This special session did not get a lot of publicity.  I only found out about it by chance on the afternoon of the same day. Yet there was a small audience of about 30 people, who seemed to all be parents from Kensington Hilltop. Of the ten people who spoke during public comment, nine were parents who spoke out against class size increases. Those who identified their children’s school mentioned Kensington Hilltop. They spoke passionately about the need for small class sizes, and undoubtedly said the same things parents from less fortunate areas than Kensington would have said.  Parents of children in the Richmond and San Pablo schools are  also concerned about class size,  but none of them seemed to be in attendance. The fact that all the parents present seemed to be from the same school suggested that they had somehow found out about this hastily organized and little publicized meeting, rather than that other parents did not care or would not have come if they had known.

The board started questioning Assistant Superintendant Sheri Gamba about specific budget items. They all had packets in front of them which the audience did not have so it was a bit hard to follow the discussion. But it turned out, as they were looking at catagorical funding that could be flexed, that there were two million dollars left in deferred maintenance that could be released for other purposes. Then Ms. Gamba mentioned that some of the bond money the district now has could be used for emergency maintenance to cover expenses that might otherwise have been paid out of the deferred maintenance funds.  Several board members pointed out that using the bond money in this way would demonstrate the desirability of having bond money on hand, which might convince the public to vote for the new bond measure that is planned.

Then there was more good news, from a group that had been studying the use of Title I and II monies.  It turns out that there are new ARRA guidelines (ARRA is the federal stimulus money) that allow 8 kinds of waiver requests for California schools, all of which WCCUSD can and will use.  This will allow the district to use Title  I and II monies for class size reduction. The amount was not specified.

Ms. Gamba then began to ask the board for guidance on how to use the money that had just been turned up.  Did she understand that the board wanted to use all the money to reduce class sizes, and that if more money could be found, it would be used to reduce class sizes even further?  

Tony Thurmond said he hoped that, after class sizes had been reduced,there might be some money left over to help adult education, but Charles Ramsey was opposed to this.  He said he wanted to be a “voice for the voiceless”. He said elementary schools get a lot of support,and “A lot of people like adult school, so they come out and support it.”  But what about high school and middle school? He would rather use any money that could be spared to reduce class sizes there.

While no one would argue that the high schools and middle schools don’t  deserve help, Mr. Ramsey’s language about adult education was dismissive.  People have not been coming out to support adult school just because they “like” it.  The message of adult school supporters has been, from the very beginning, that adult education is a vital resource and that it’s loss will leave a gaping hole in our community’s infrastructure.  Apparently Mr. Ramsey has failed to hear this message, or does not want to hear it. He also did not recognize that, until very recently, adult education was probably more voiceless than any other group within the educational system.

The discussion passed to what cuts to adult education would actually mean.  As she has been doing since the Community Budget Meetings, Ms. Gamba would not give a full accounting of what is being left out of the “Core Program”, despite the fact that there has been a document on the district website since before the May special election recommending reduction of the Older Adult and Adults with Disabilities programs.With the further cuts to adult education, these recommended reductions have become recommended elimination, at least if only the “Core Program” of adult education is maintained, as seems to be the plan.  While the district does now talk openly about cuts to the Older Adult program, they have never once stated that Adults with Disabilities is to be eliminated. Adult Education Adults with Disabilities programs include two sheltered workplace programs and three programs for victims of Alzheimer’s Disease. The community deserves to know what is to become of these programs and their vulnerable clients.  For those new to this discussion, the “Core Program” is: English as a Second Language, Adult Basic Education, GED, High School Diploma, CAHSEE Prep, and Citizenship.  These are very important programs, and they will almost certainly need to be reduced if  adult education funding is cut by another million next year, even if the Older Adult and Adults with Disabilities programs are completely eliminated. 

Upon being further pressed by Tony Thurmond, Sheri Gamba did state that adult education needs to adopt zero based budgeting, look at the areas of greatest need, and target funding there. She also stated that adult education would inevitably lose some students in this process.

Wendell Greer was asked about efforts he is making to find other funding for the Older Adult program.  He said he isn’t so much trying to find funding as trying to identify other programs that serve older adults in the  city Parks and Recreation Departments. He mentioned the swim program at Kennedy High. He suggested that adult education might link to these programs on its website.

Charles Ramsey said adult school students can afford to pay more for their classes. He has seen nice cars in  the adult school parking lot.

Tony Thurmond said adult education is a way to close the achievement gap. Charles Ramsey said he disagreed with this, but did not say why.  There is abundant research showing that the literacy of the parents is one of the most important factors influencing a child’s success in school; Mr. Ramsey apparently either does not know about this research or does not care about it.

After months of coming to Board of Education meetings trying to educate the board about what adult education is, it is immensely frustrating to be judged on the contents of a parking lot.  If Mr. Ramsey came by Alvarado Adult on one of the days that a training for district principals was being held there, he undoubtedly saw a lot of fancy cars, but they did not belong to adult students.  It can’t be denied that some adult school students have decent cars, but the ones who own no car, the ones who walk miles to school, are not visible when one glances into the parking lot.

It is very good news that the district will be able to maintain class size reduction for the children.  Class size is of concern to the parents who come to our adult school classes, and it is too bad that none of them were at this meeting to speak to the issue. Still, it was hard to avoid certain calculations.  On the powerpoint slide that was up on the screen, two numbers were helpfully highlighted: $ 1 million saved by increasing K-3 class sizes, $1,million taken from adult education.  They found more than $2 million.  But not even a fraction of that could be used to restore some money to adult education,even though they found even more money in Title I and II for class size reduction. 

Another calculation:  thirty people from Kensington who come one evening are more important than hundreds of people who came evening after evening, sat through long meetings with their children, wrote letters and spoke eloquently about what adult education did for them and their children. There were 300 of them on March 3,  but they are being told, “Sorry, there’s nothing for you.”

Did the people from Kensington at that meeting know that the Kensington Senior Center will probably close because of cuts to adult education?

Are the Alzheimer’s patients in the Older Adults and Adults with Disabilities programs supposed to go to the adult education website and find a swimming class at Kennedy High?

It is very good news that the district can find money in its budget to support class size reduction.  Can they dig a little deeper and find at least some money for adult education, a program that the community has repeatedly asked them to support?

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