Town Hall Meeting on the Regional Consortia (AB 86), Oakland, October 30

The second of four town hall meetings on planning for the regional consortia between community colleges and K-12 adult schools took place in Oakland on October 30.  The meeting took place in the auditorium of McClymonds High School, one of the few places where Oakland’s decimated adult school program still clings to life.  The meeting was attended by teachers and administrators from adult schools and community colleges, as well as community members. Three adult school students from San Mateo Adult School came, and presented the results of a student survey they had created.

The format of the town hall was admirably inclusive.  There was a brief explanatory  presentation by a panel made up of members of the AB 86 working group who are tasked with shaping the consortia process.  When the panel presentation was over, those in attendance were invited to respond orally to four questions. There was no time limit on responses, and for those of us used to speaking at school board meetings and other public meetings, it was refreshing change to be able to speak without a timer going.  And no one abused the privilege; the presentations were all thoughtful and not overly long. There was also an opportunity to respond to the four questions in writing, and the written responses were collected at the end of the meeting.

The four questions were:

How do you envision the makeup of your consortium in this area?

What are some of the specific challenges with collaborating for the development of a regional consortium?

This is a non-competitive grant process. What are your suggestions on how these planning funds could be distributed?

AB86 provides an opportunity to re-envision, rethink, and reshape the service delivery model for adult education. How do you believe adult learners can be better served as a result of the development of local consortia?

Participants addressed these questions from a number of angles, raising issues such as access to education for undocumented immigrants, the needs of veterans, and the need to include input from all racial and ethnic groups.  Many of the participants made the point that, even though AB86 excludes lifelong learning programs like Older Adult and Parent Education programs, the consortia would be impoverished and hobbled if they did not have the option to offer these programs. So many people spoke up in defense of the excluded programs that at one point a member of the panel, Joanne Durkee, asked the group to read the law and keep in mind the specific mission of the consortia.

Advocacy for the excluded programs, especially Older Adult programs, continued throughout the program despite this admonishment.  This was the first time students, teachers and community members had a chance to defend these programs in a public forum. They were not given the chance to advocate for the programs before the law that excluded them was passed.  Hopefully the panel recognized that the many who
stood up for these programs, even in the face of legislation that eliminates them, were providing valuable information for them. What is the point of a town hall if you are not open to hearing about people’s real concerns?

While the inclusive format of the town hall was excellent, the AB 86 process of eliciting public input lacks accountability.  It was not very clear what will be done with the information that is being collected, or how the community can hold the working groups accountable for addressing its concerns. It remains to be seen whether the AB 86 process will be truly inclusive and democratic.  There were only four town halls for the whole state, and they were all completed within one week.  They may well be the first and last chance teachers, students and community members have to give input on the consortia in a public forum.

It was exhilarating to hear the passionate advocacy and keen analysis of those who spoke at the town hall.  It was depressing, after listening to so many good ideas and well reasoned arguments, to hear so many people say, as the meeting broke up, things like, “Well, it seems like it’s a done deal. They know what they want to do.” I’m not quite sure whether there was something particular about the town hall that made people feel this way.  I myself did not feel particularly discouraged by the format of the town hall, or anything that was said there. It may just be that this is the way people feel about how government operates.

Either way, is this what those in the state government want? Is this what the department of education wants?  Do they want citizens who feel like they have no voice,  who feel like everything is decided in back room decisions to which they must simply submit? The comments I heard as the meeting ended indicate that people working in the field of education today don’t feel much more free than citizens of a totalitarian state.  I can only hope that their pessimism, while understandable, is not completely warranted. California deserves better.

For a much more thorough treatment of the town hall, including excellent summaries of almost all the remarks, see the Adult Education Matters blog at http://adulteducationmatters.blogspot.com

Now that all four town halls are complete, you can view the presentations on the AB 86 home page at http://ab86.cccco.edu/

Just click on the “Calendar” button, and select “Town Hall Meetings” from the dropdown menu.

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