West Contra Costa Unified School District Community Budget Meetings and Adult Education

Over the  last few weeks of January and the first weeks of February,  West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD)  is holding a series of Community Budget Meetings.  The schedule is below.


Day Date School Address
Wed. Jan.  25, 2012 Hercules Middle School 1900 Refugio Valley Rd. Hercules
Thurs. Jan. 26, 2012 Murphy Elementary 4350 Valley View Rd. Richmond
Tues. Jan. 31, 2012 Helms Middle School 2500 Road 20,  San Pablo


Thurs. Feb. 2, 2012 King Elementary School 4022 Florida Ave. Richmond
Tues. Feb. 7, 2012 Harding Elementary School 7320 Fairmont Ave.         El Cerrito
Wed. Feb. 8, 2012 Pinole Middle School 1575 Mann Dr., Pinole


The meetings begin with an address by Superintendant Dr. Bruce Harter, followed by a budget presentation by Associate Superintendant of Business Services Sheri  Gamba.  Their presentations may be viewed on the district website at www.wccusd.net.

During the budget presentation, Ms. Gamba points out that the January 2012 Governor’s Budget proposal includes the potential for mid-year cuts to K-12 education if the state tax initiative is not successful in November.  The audience then participates in a dot voting exercise.  Each audience member is given three dots, and they walk around the room affixing the dots to their choices out of six priorities:  Kindergarten-third grade class size reduction, middle and high school class size reduction, adult education, retention of support staff, attracting and retaining quality employees, and maintaining a  180 day school year.    Once the results of the voting have been determined, Superintendant Harter and Associate Superintendant Gamba  point out that  a parcel tax would be one way to assure some stable funding for the district.  They announce that the district plans to put a parcel tax on the June ballot.  There is then time for audience questions and comments.

Adult education did not do very well in the dot voting at the Hercules meeting, perhaps unsurprisingly, as there is little adult education in Hercules.  The meeting was held at the local high school, and class size reduction in middle and high school received the second highest number of votes, a result that may not be duplicated at the elementary school locations.  Dot voting is a good way of getting community members to think about the difficult choices involved in running a school district budget.  However, if the district plans to use the results of the dot voting to justify decisions about which programs to keep and which to cut, the process is unfair to adult education, and those students who rely on it, in several ways.

While adult education is well distributed throughout the West County area, the bulk of its services are concentrated in the urban core of Richmond/San Pablo.  Yet only two of the six Community Budget Meetings, the one at Helms and the one at King, take place in the urban core.  Murphy is located in Richmond, but it is in a section of Richmond that extends up into the El Sobrante area; it is not really an urban school.  In order to get its message out across the West County area, the district needs to distribute the meetings in this way, but this pattern of distribution inevitably gives more votes to residents of the better-off and more suburban areas of West County.

As the Community Budget Presentation points out, more than 68% of WCCUSD students are now eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch.  Latinos make up 48% of the student body, another 12% are Asian.  One-third of WCCUSD students are English Language Learners.  In short, the students in the WCCUSD system are majority low income, and a substantial number, if not the majority, are immigrants or children of immigrants.  The needs of these children and their families may be poorly understood by people for whom poverty and lack of English fluency are not barriers.

Literacy of the parents is one of the most important determinants of a child’s success in school. Therefore, in a  district with a majority low-income student body, many of whom are children of immigrants, English as a Second Language, Adult Basic Education, High School Diploma and GED programs for the parents are an important support for the children’s academic success.  A community member asked simply to vote on “adult education” may not know this, however.

Also, the community may not be aware that when the district says it has made adult education a “priority”, it means simply that the district has decided, at least for the time being, not to eliminate the program entirely.  Adult education has had its budget cut by more than half; its operating budget was $5 million in 2008.  The current operating budget is $2.5 million.  Adult education had a $3 million reserve in 2008; it now operates with no reserve at all.  The adult education has taken as many cuts as it can sustain without closing its doors. The community may not realize that, if the district decides not to prioritize adult education, this might mean complete elimination of the program.

Interestingly, one of the other priorities community members were asked to vote on was “attracting and retaining quality employees”.  Maintaining a robust adult education program is not in opposition to this goal; it could be part of it. Teachers and principals appreciate the way adult education supports their work, especially with English as a Second Language and Parent Education classes for parents at their schools. Also, many K-12 teachers also work in adult education in their off hours, while others look forward to working in adult education after they retire.  It is a way to supplement their incomes, but teachers have also told me that the freedom to be more creative in their teaching and the different kinds of challenges and rewards that come with teaching adults keep teaching fresh and interesting for them.  Support for adult education can also be support for employees in the K-12 system, and can be a factor in maintaining their satisfaction with their jobs.

During the public comment period at the meeting in Hercules, many people suggested that schools should use technology to keep costs down.  The only mention of adult education came up in this context, when an audience member suggested that this might be a way to deliver adult education more cheaply.  This audience member acknowledged the value of adult education by suggesting we look for ways to do it more efficiently, rather than simply cut it altogether.  And, while the use of technology in adult education at the present time usually involves struggling with the old equipment we can afford or are allowed to use, we are always looking for ways to maximize our effectiveness through all means, including technology.

However, there is a certain amount of adult education that needs to remain hands-on and classroom based, at least for the foreseeable future.  You probably wouldn’t want to hire a welder who had never held a torch in his hands, or a carpenter who had never actually pounded in a nail.  These are subjects adult education teaches.  In order to learn how to respond effectively to a disaster, you need to get together with your neighbors and practice.  Adult school is where you would do this.  You can’t get a certificate in CPR without actually blowing air into a manikin and demonstrating that you have the right technique.  You can get your certificate in an adult school class.  Research in language learning shows that, while solo study with a computer can be a good supplement to classroom work, it isn’t nearly as effective by itself.  And finally, there are still a lot of people without home computers, and a lot of people who don’t know how to use computers.  Even a highly technological society needs a first step, a starting place where people can be initiated into the use of technology.  Adult school is that place.

A few people at the Hercules meeting also mentioned the importance of finding more classroom volunteers to help keep school costs down.  They could not know that adult education programs, particularly the Older Adult and ESL programs, are an important source of school volunteers.

Community Budget Meetings will continue for the next two weeks.  It is particularly important for supporters of adult education to get out to these meetings and let the community know what we will lose if the district ceases to support adult education.




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