West Contra Costa Board of Education Votes to Take Another $1 Million from Adult Education

At the West Contra Costa Board of Education Meeting of March 2, 2011, the board voted, in preparation for a “worst case scenario” in which California voters reject tax extensions in a June special election, to take one million dollars from adult education and one million from the School Resource Officer (SRO) campus safety program to maintain class size reduction in grades K-6.  The vote was three to two:  Charles Ramsey, Madeline Kronenberg and Antonio Medrano voted “yes”; Elaine Merriweather and Tony Thurmond voted “no”.

Since the district must send layoff notices to teachers by March 15, a majority “no” vote on this item would presumably have meant that district personnel would  have to come up with other recommendations, which the board would then have had to vote on at a later meeting.  They probably would have had to call a special meeting for March 9, since they have to make a decision prior to March 15.

The multipurpose room at LoVonya DeJean Middle School, where the meeting took place, was filled with well over 200 supporters of adult education, who wore pink badges and carried signs to show their support for the program.

During discussion prior to the vote, Antonio Medrano asked how much adult education has been reduced, and Associate Superintendant for Business Services Sheri Gamba replied, “One million.”  Mr. Medrano also asked if any adult education centers, such as Alvarado, would be closed as a result of the cuts.  Ms. Gamba replied that there had been no discussion of closing centers, but that the board could discuss that possibility if it so pleased. 

Tony Thurmond asked if there might be alternative ways to build some savings into the budget to prepare for the “worst case scenario” where the tax extensions are not approved.  He suggested, for example, a deferred week of furloughs that would only take place if the tax extensions don’t pass. 

Elaine Merriweather pointed out that this money was being taken in preparation for the “worst case scenario”, and asked if it would change if the taxes passed.  She asked if the two million could be taken from the reserve, which, she pointed out, is twice the 3% which the district is required by law to maintain.  She said that teachers have suffered enough, and adult education has suffered enough.

After the vote, Charles Ramsey said that the board is still trying to find money and, “We’ll do our best for adult ed.”

After voting to take another $1 million in adult education money, the board passed the consent calendar, which included a resolution in support of adult education in honor of Adult Education Week, March 15-19.

Even with the cuts to adult education and the SRO program, the district will be sending layoffs notices to 138 certificated employees (teachers and administrators) on March 15.  By taking $2 million from adult education and the SRO program, they can reduce the number of layoffs in the K-6 grades from 85 to 26.  The layoffs will save the district $1.8 million in the “worst case scenario”, a scenario in which the district will need to cut an estimated $11.6 million.

The board must decide on how many layoff notices to send now, because California law requires that teachers who will be laid off for the next school year must receive notification by March 15 of the current year. The layoffs can, and hopefully will, be rescinded if the tax extensions pass. Although Elaine Merriweather asked about it, there was no clear answer as to whether money will be returned to the adult education and SRO programs if the “worst case scenario” does not come about.

During public comment, community member Tammy  Campbell pointed out that if the taxes do not pass, class size reduction will be eliminated statewide, and she asked what the district would do then.  Board member Madeline Kronenberg replied that class size reduction is now an optional program.  Sheri Gamba stated that the district has Measure D parcel tax money, Title I and Title II money, and federal stimulus money for class size reduction. The Title I money can only be used in Title I schools, and the Measure D money must be distributed equally throughout all the schools in the district.

Many supporters of adult education spoke, including teachers, students and community members.  Four students from the Adults with Disabilities program attended the meeting, and three of them spoke.  Many English as a Second Language students spoke, and though it is now possible to address the board in Spanish because board members now wear headsets for Spanish to English translation, they all spoke English. 

Community member Maria Alegria asked for clarification on how much money the district has taken from adult education, in reference to Sheri Gamba’s statement that the amount was $1 million.  Ms. Alegria pointed out that during the two years that she has been working to support adult education, the district has taken about $5 million from adult education, including its $3 million reserve and $1 million a year from its operating budget over two years.  Board President Charles Ramsey said that Ms. Gamba could not answer questions from the stage, but that she would get back to Ms. Alegria with answers.

Ms. Gamba also pointed out that the board is not actually voting on the budget now.  That vote will probably not take place until June.  What the board is doing now is giving her guidance on how to develop the budget.

Many adult education students brought their children to the meeting, and the kids were quiet and well behaved throughout a long evening.  At one point, after they had been sitting for several hours, the children spontaneously began a parade around the room with their signs in support of adult education.  When the adults saw them, they started a long and sustained applause that lasted until the children completed their first lap.  The kids were beaming as the adults clapped for them, and they kept doing circuits around the room until some of the smaller ones got tired out. 

While Charles Ramsey counseled against spending any of the reserve money to avoid taking money from adult education and the SRO program, he never disputed Elaine Merriweather’s assertion that the district now has a reserve that is twice what is required by law.  This came as something of a surprise to supporters of adult education, as only last year the board voted to sweep adult education’s $3 million dollar reserve on the grounds that if they did not sweep the money, the district reserve would dip below the 3% state law requires that it maintain.  How did the district manage to double its reserve in these times of austerity?  Supporters of adult education would like to know the answer to that.

The additional $1 million cut to adult education leaves  the program with less than $1.5 million for next year.  In three years, we have gone from a $5 million operating budget with a $3 million reserve to $1.5 million with no reserve.  There will have to be severe cuts next year, but their form is yet to be determined.  Only one thing is certain: vulnerable people will be hurt by the cuts.

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One Response

  1. One of the many disgraceful aspects of the decision to sweep another million dollars from a program which serves some of the poorest people in the district was the inevitble and completely unecessary tension it sets up between the 200+ Adult School Supporters and the 50+ Kensington Parents. Using the reserve (or Tony’ Thurmond furlough option) as a hedge against the worst case scenerio would have united the commununity. What the board did was to have well off (and very well represented) people and poor (and very under represented) people fight over the crumbs: completely unecessary; immoral and ultimately, politically stupid.

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