West Contra Costa Board of Education Meeting February 23, 2011 — Meeting Notes

Based on discussions that took place at a specially called February 23 West Contra Costa Board of Education meeting, it is almost certain that board will vote to take another $1 million from adult education at their next meeting on March 2.  The board will also vote to take $1 million from the School Resource Officer (SRO) school safety program.  The $2 million from adult education and SRO will be used to maintain class size reduction.  The board will commit itself to this course of action by voting on how many layoff notices to send K-12 teachers on March 2.  The board did discuss looking for other money to replace the money that will be cut from adult education and SRO, and Charles Ramsey even stated that he is pledged to find replacement money.  They felt they had more time to come up with ways to replace funding for adult education and the SRO program, whereas they must decide now how many layoff notices to send on March 15.

The meeting was specially called in order to focus on the budget, especially preparations for the “worst case scenario” that will ensue if California voters do not approve extensions of several taxes in a special election this summer.  It got confusing at times, because there is also a “worse than worst case” scenario that could take place if the legislature refuses to approve Governor Brown’s suggested cuts AND the voters reject the tax extensions.  This scenario is also called the “crisis” scenario, and for clarity’s sake it will be referred to as the “crisis scenario” throughout this post.  Mostly, the board seemed to be discussing the middling “worst case scenario” rather than the “crisis scenario”, the latter being so gruesome and unpredictable that it doesn’t make sense to discuss it at this point.  The cuts to adult education and the SRO program, and the March 15 layoff notices that will go out to some K-12 teachers, are preparation for the just medium horrible “worst case scenario”. 

In the “best case scenario”, where the legislature approves Governor Brown’s cuts and the voters approve the tax extensions, the layoff notices will be rescinded.  Will the board also restore the $1 million in adult education funding in the “best case scenario”?  There is nothing that compels them to do so, once they have voted to appropriate the money for other purposes. 

If the $1 million cut stands, West Contra Costa Adult Education will have $1.5 million with which to run its program next year:  $1 million in state money and about $500,000 in federal Workforce Investment Act money (which the district cannot appropriate).  If the “crisis” scenario ensues, the district may consider taking the rest of the state money as well, leaving the adult school to run a severely reduced program on the federal funds alone.  Since the federal money is “pay for performance”, based on students reaching benchmarks on standardized tests, it will quickly dwindle to nothing as there are fewer and fewer students to test.

There was a good turnout of supporters of adult education at the February 23 meeting: at least 12 teachers, about 20 students, and several community members.  Of the nine people who spoke during the public comment period, seven spoke in favor of adult education: six teachers and one student.

The budget portion of the meeting began with a report by John Gray of School Services of California, regarding the effects of the California budget on the schools.  According to his report, California has been allocating less money to its schools than the national average for more than 25 years.  His report also stated that unemployment is driving the budget crisis in California, and that California has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation.  Ironically, this was at a meeting about how many more people to throw out of work, and who those people would be.

At the beginning of the meeting, Superintendant of Schools Dr. Bruce Harter asked about the status of AB 189, the assembly bill that proposes to restore some protected funding for adult education.  He expressed some concern about what its impact would be and how the bill, if passed, would modify flexibility in general.  Associate Superintendant of Business Services Sheri Gamba stated that most of the flexed funds the district is now using come from adult education, although she also said that the district is now using about $15.3 million in Tier III flexibility funds, which is about three times the money adult education ever had even in the best of times (WCCAE’s operating budget in 2007-2008 was about $5 million).  Board member Charles Ramsey said there was concern that, if the bill passed, other “special interests” would want to pass similar bills to protect other Tier III programs.

To view the text of AB 189, click on this link: www.aroundthecapitol.com.   AB 189 is the #1 most popular bill on Around the Capitol as of this writing.  It is a fairly short bill, and a perusal of it will show that it does not deal with any other area of Tier III Flexibility except adult education.  WCCUSD is currently flexing funds from 22 Tier III programs, most of which are funds for K-12 staff development of various kinds and things like deferred maintenance, programs that probably don’t have a constituency that would try to get their Tier III Flexibility status modified.  And by what definition is adult education, which provides a wide variety of vital services for anyone over the age of 18, a “special interest”?

During her budget planning presentation, Sheri Gamba stated that there would be no need to “sweep” adult education funds in the “worst case scenario”, but that the district would have to consider it in the “crisis” scenario.  By “sweep”, she probably meant “take all the remaining money”, since a chart of recommendations for the “worst case scenario” included a $1 million reduction for adult education.  A chart for the “much worse”, or “crisis” scenario also showed a reduction of $1 million to adult education. 

During the board discussion, Board President Charles Ramsey suggested that the board use money from the reserve to pay off some of the district’s debt, thus freeing up some money that would have gone to interest payments.  He stated that the board could dedicate the money thus freed up to anything they wanted, including class size reduction, adult education or the school resource officers.  He also stated that he is working on getting the cities to pay for more of the school resource officers, which would free up money that could then be used to restore adult education funds, if the board wanted to do that.  However, he is still negotiating this arrangement with the cities.

Because the board’s most pressing task right now is to decide how many layoff notices the district must issue, discussion moved on to whether $ 1 million from adult education and $1 million from the SRO program should be moved into class size reduction, thus cutting down on the number of K-12 teachers who would have to receive layoff notices. 

During this discussion, Board Clerk Madeline Kronenberg  brought up the state strategic plan for adult education, stating that the funding for adult education is “shifting”.  Board member Antonio Medrano replied that the state strategic plan does not outline any clear source of funding for adult education,  and noted that he had spoken to Contra Costa College earlier the same day and that they have no interest in taking over adult education, as they are dealing with their own severe cuts.

Charles Ramsey asked each member of the board if they were comfortable with committing to taking $1 million from adult education and $1 million from the SRO program in order to reduce the number of layoff notices the district will have to send.  He cautioned them that once they committed to this course of action by voting on the number of layoff notices at the next meeting on March 2, there would be no going back, as all teachers who may be laid off next year must be notified by March 15 of this year.  Board member Tony Thurmond said that he was comfortable with this course of action, because the board has time to look for other money for adult education and the SROs.  Board member Antonio Medrano indicated a position similar to Mr. Thurmond’s.  Madeline Kronenberg stated that she was comfortable with this course of action, and also commented that if some more money could be found she would like to spend it on middle schools.  Board member Elaine Merriweather commented that the $2 million necessary to restore adult education and the SRO program is not that much money, and that there ought to be some way to come up with it.  She asked if there was enough money in the reserve to cover the $2 million, but Charles Ramsey said that the district should not use the reserve for operating expenses.  When asked if she was comfortable with taking $1 million each from adult education and the SRO program, Ms. Merriweather said she would have to think about it.

The vote will most likely come at the upcoming March 2 Board of Education meeting. As the board rejected the idea of moving its March 16 meeting to March 9, the March 2 meeting is the last one before the March 15 deadline by which teachers must receive layoff notices.

If the board votes to take the $2 million from the SRO and adult education programs, they will be able to issue 26 fewer layoff notices to K-12 teachers.   No one wants to see K-12 teachers laid off, but it is also important to remember that adult education teacher positions are also jobs. 
$1 million dollars is more than a third of the money adult education has left, and adult education cannot conceivably cut its program by that amount without laying off teachers and/or cutting their hours to the point that they can’t live on their wages.   When K-12 teachers receive layoff notices on March 15, it will cause a stir, and probably be in the newspapers.  Layoffs of adult education teachers are invisible.  Adult education teachers in West Contra Costa are not unionized, and can be laid off with no notice at all.  Adult education teachers make less than K-12 teachers, and are hourly employees.  Their hours are capped at 17.5 hours per week so that they will not be eligible for health benefits or paid vacations and holidays.  They patch together two and three jobs to get by, but, of course, the other jobs are drying up too. 

At least two part-time adult school teachers will have to lose their jobs to save the job of one full time K-12 teacher with benefits.  The pain of these teachers, and of the students who lose their services, may pass unnoticed.  But it will be pain nonetheless.

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