By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Santa Rosa Teacher Association members (left to right) Lynne Black, Patricia Rogers and Irena Dewey.
Beverly Ewoldsen retired from her job in 2000. Then she was swindled out of her investments, and her retirement money vanished. She needed to go back to work, but first she needed to update her computer skills. So she enrolled at the Lewis Adult Education Center in Santa Rosa.
“I'm just taking Microsoft Word for starters," she says. “Then I'll take more classes in other programs."
Her plans could change, however, under a proposal to completely eliminate the program. And Ewoldsen isn't happy about that possibility one bit.
“I need to take computer courses. The job market isn't good right now, so this way I can improve my skills while waiting for things to improve. I haven't used a computer in my workplace since 1990, and there's a whole new world out there."
The Santa Rosa City School District voted to eliminate the entire adult education program for budgetary reasons at a March 4 meeting, but will make a final decision regarding the fate of the program in May, says Dan Evans, president of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association (SRTA).
Meanwhile, students and SRTA members at the site are worried about the future. All 12 teachers at the program have received RIF notices.
“We are currently serving about 3,000 students," says Carole Smith, who teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. “We teach people who can't speak English, people re-entering the job market, or those who lost their jobs and need to be retrained. We help people who dropped out of school get their diploma or their GED. Our classes are free or reasonably priced and offer a flexibility that people can't get at a junior college or other schools. This is an important program; we are helping people to become productive members of society."
Administrators propose to use the savings from closing the adult school to benefit the district's K-12 schools. But Smith believes it will have a negative impact.
“We offer a free program for ESL adults to learn English," she says. “Many of the adults in the ESL program are also the parents of elementary school students in the district. It helps their children when they are able to attend parent conferences and understand what teachers are talking about without translators."
“We provide services to the community that need to exist," says Irena Dewey, another teacher at the site. “We believe we are a viable program. We have served the community for a long time. As usual, this will hit the poor segment of the population hardest. My students are very upset because if this closes down, they will be out of luck. We are willing to adjust to the demands of reducing the budget, but closing down is not an option."
Unfortunately, adult education programs are now more vulnerable than ever due to recent changes in school financing. In the past, programs like adult education have received money from categorical funding. But in the new budget deal, legislators put categorical programs into three tiers.
Adult education is among more than 40 programs in the third or bottom tier. Tier III programs are subject to having their funds raided for other programs or eliminated entirely. The reasoning behind this change was to allow school boards and administrators “flexibility" in balancing budget shortfalls.
So far, Santa Rosa is the only community to propose completely eliminating its adult education program under the new tier system. However, the Bellflower Unified School District has announced plans to greatly reduce class offerings. Other Tier III programs now jeopardized include Regional Occupational Program (ROP) centers offering career and technical education and programs for Gifted and Talented Education (GATE); community day schools; high school counseling, art and music block grants; and class size reduction in ninth grade.
CTA is lobbying to remove adult education and ROP programs from Tier III and have them placed into Tier II so they will be protected. (Under Tier III, programs receive a 15 percent reduction in the current year and for four additional years, and schools have maximum flexibility to use the funding as they wish for other purposes.)
Cris Johnson — who serves as chair of CTA's Alternative, Career and Technical Education Committee and vice chair of CTA's Adult Education Caucus — says he is disturbed by the trend for administrators to downsize or eliminate adult education and ROP programs.
“At Sacramento City Unified, where I'm at, they are closing all the adult school evening programs and weekend programs," he says. “This includes a lot of career and technical education programs, such as those that teach students to be bus drivers and organize medical records."
Johnson, who teaches adult basic education classes for those seeking a high school diploma or GED, believes such decisions are shortsighted and will ultimately backfire.
“These programs are being cut when they are needed the most," he explains. “Because of the economy, waiting lists are growing to get into these classes, which serve a population of adults trying to get back into the workforce. Traditionally, these programs also serve as an alternative for people who did not get through high school. Instead of cutting them, they should be giving them all the support they can."