Board of Education Meeting June 22 — Budget Contains Funding for Adult Education, Parcel Tax Considered

At the June 22 Board of Education meeting, the board approved a budget for 2010-2011 that included  $2.5 million in funding for adult education for the coming school year.  A document available at the meeting entitled “2010-2011 Executive Summary Budget Information, June 22, 2010” , read, in pertinent part:

Adult Education Fund — Fund 11

West Contra Costa Adult Education provides educational service to community members of all ages.  Programs include vocational education, high school diploma studies, English as a Second Language, basic education geared to promote adult literacy, parent education, adults with disabilities and senior citizen classes.  the State of California has placed the state portion of Adult Education within the Tier III flexibility program.  The Board has approved the Adult fund to reatin $2 million in flexibility funding in order to operate the program. The operating budget is $2.5 million, which reflects the reduced programming.  (page 11)

However, page 4 of the same document includes the following language:

The board has kept in place portions of certain components of the Tier III programs for 2010-2011.  The Adult Education program continues to receive $2.0 million in accordance with Board direction to continue a level of service to that program.  If the State fiscal situation continues to get worse, it may be necessary to re-evaluate whether the District can continue this already reduced program.

Even had the District not included the above language in the Executive Summary document, the situation of adult education in West Contra Costa  would still be as described in the above passage.  All adult education programs are in the same situation. Until 2013, state education code has been suspended to allow school districts to appropriate adult education monies for other uses, and as financial pressures on districts mount, adult education programs become ever more vulnerable.  

All five board of education members were in attendance at this meeting, but there were less than 15 members of the public present.  A small number of WCCUSD  parents sat in the very back of the room, while supporters of adult education occupied the very front row, giving the ranks of blue plastic chairs in the middle of the room a decidedly desolate air.  The eight adult education supporters, mostly teachers and students from the ESL and Older Adult programs, made up the bulk of the audience.  During the public comment period following the presentation of the budget, two ESL students spoke eloquently about adult education’s importance for them, and received a hearty round of applause from the otherwise  quiet audience.  Richmond Vision sent a letter thanking the board for continuing to fund the adult education program, which was read by a Communities Organized to Save Adult School (COSAS) member during the public comment period and presented to the board.

At the end of the meeting, the board voted to authorize a survey to assess community support for a parcel tax to be placed on the November ballot.  The comment for this agenda item read, in part:

With the continued deterioration of the State of  California’s financial outlook and Legislative impasse on revenue increases necessary to fund public education, it appears that the only way for the district to continue to provide the current level of services is to seek local voter approval of a parcel tax measure.”

During the discussion of this item, board members noted that, with regard to items that might be funded by a parcel tax,  public concern is principally with  class size reduction and adult education. Public safety and libraries were  also mentioned  as areas  of interest that might be addressed by this tax.

As part of the discussion preceding the vote on this agenda item, Board Member Tony Thurmond questioned the necessity of the survey, arguing that the board and the district might simply commit to the parcel tax instead, doing whatever education and outreach is necessary to get full public support.  Mr.  Thurmond said that he himself is committed to the parcel tax, and asked each board member whether they would commit to working for the parcel tax even if the survey results are negative. Charles Ramsey stated that he would support the parcel tax even if survey results turn out negative, though he later stated that if the results were very negative he would not support the tax.  All board members said that they would support the tax even if poll results turned out somewhat negaitive, but several members felt that the poll might yield valuable information.  These board members noted that adult education was not included in the last parcel tax survey, and that the Community Budget Meetings held last winter had made clear that adult education and class size reduction are of great importance to the community. At the conclusion of the discussion, the board voted to authorize the survey.

As the board has approved a budget that includes $2.5 million for adult education for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, it is likely that adult education will be able to deliver services for the coming year at a level that is greatly reduced compared to pre-2009 levels, but roughly the same  as 2009-2010. However, the situation of adult education throughout the state of California remains perilous due to suspension of state laws protecting adult education funding,  though a parcel tax, if passed, could provide some stability locally for adult education and other educational programs of importance to the community.

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