A last minute agreement between the Los Angeles Unified School District and its teachers union will allow for a partial reinstatement of some adult education funding. But educators and advocates of the program remain disheartened over the potential threat to courses and possible loss of positions, as well as the uncertainty surrounding the funding.
“We haven’t heard anything yet,” Venice Community Adult School Principal Cynthia Tollete said June 19, the last day of the school year for LAUSD teachers and students. “I was hopeful that we would know a little more (regarding the amount of funds that might be restored) and who will be the principals at the schools next year, but we still don’t know anything.”
An agreement reached between United Teachers Los Angeles and LAUSD on June 16 will ostensibly allow the school district to stabilize schools by maintaining class sizes and save over 4,700 jobs for the 2012-13 school year, according to union officials.
UTLA President Martin Fletcher characterized the vote as another example of the union stepping forward to rescue vital initiatives like adult education while the district and the LAUSD school board were poised to see it and other programs shut down.
“This was a close vote and UTLA members are angry. The superintendent and school board came within an inch of completely eliminating adult education and early childhood education from Los Angeles,” he said.
“They came within an inch of boosting elementary class size by 25 percent and laying off thousands of teachers. They came within an inch of decimating arts education, physical education, nursing services, libraries, counseling services and more in LAUSD.”
LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Westchester, Del Rey, Venice and Mar Vista in District 4, urged the union to come to terms with the district. He congratulated UTLA after the accord was reached.
“I am extremely grateful to every UTLA and (Service Employees International Union) member who voted to sacrifice yet again so that we can mitigate the impacts of the ongoing budget crisis and keep our schools as stable as possible,” said Zimmer, who won election in 2009 with help from the teachers union. “I also recognize and appreciate that more of our classified employees are also voting this week to accept furlough days to help us maintain the essential functioning of this district.”
The Lincoln Adult Learning Center in Venice is one of many casualties of the budget deficit looming over LAUSD.
The school district is planning to close all leased sites and will consolidate adult education courses into 10 centers throughout the city. One will be at the Venice Skills Center, which will absorb a number of former sites, including the Lincoln center.
“That’s due to the fact that the district does not want to lease facilities anymore,” said Lincoln Adult Learning Center Site Advisor Marilynn Schalit. “It’s not as close to bus lines and some people are afraid to walk to Venice Skills Center.”
At a town hall meeting in Westchester earlier this month, adult education teachers, students and proponents rallied to generate support and ask district officials not to cut the courses.
“Access to public education is a bedrock of democracy. We need to preserve our democratic traditions and we need to preserve our community’s future,” said Westchester-Emerson Adult School teacher Anne Ouwehand, who is the school’s union chapter chair.
Isabel Gutierrez, an adult school student, is taking English language courses at Emerson and said the school is akin to a second home for her. “Please don’t close my second home,” she said.
Sacramento is also paying attention to how school districts are handling their budget deficits.
In a Feb. 10 letter to LASUD, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, offered his opinion on the district’s plan to slash arts and adult education funding.
“It is our goal at the California Department of Education to consider the ‘whole student’ in our daily work of providing technical assistance and oversight of the multitude of state and federal programs we are responsible to administer,” the schools superintendent wrote.
“As such, we consider adult education a vital and integral part of the entire school spectrum.”
At the Venice centers, the mood is gloomy. “Nearly all of the classified staff has been reassigned. We don’t know who our principal or our teachers will be,” Schalit lamented.
Class sizes will be larger and there will be fewer English as a second language courses if a significant portion of the funding is not restored, Tollette said.
“Unfortunately, as the district continues to give us less to work with, all students will not be able to be served,” said Tollette, who will be retiring after 37 years in June, most of them spent in adult education.
Fletcher accused LAUSD officials of taking its students for granted. “As their budget priorities demonstrate over and over again, LAUSD has shown its willingness to be cavalier about the needs of schools and students,” he stated. “(LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy) and the school board have felt free to adopt wildly destructive and irresponsible budgets, secure in the knowledge that the teachers would clean up their mess, that UTLA members would step up and ‘do the right thing’ for students and the community.”
Last month, a massive rally was held at Venice High School to protest reductions to adult education funding.
Tollette and others believe LAUSD does not consider adult students and their education to be a priority. “I think that’s evident,” she said. “They realize that due to the tremendous outcry from the community that they have to give us something, but (adult education) is not one of their priorities.”
Ouwehand, who lives in Mar Vista, described the potential loss of classes and schools in broader terms. “This is a social justice and an economic justice issue,” she asserted.
Torkalson touched on the importance of adult education in letters, echoing what many educators and current and former students have said over the last several months.
“It is through adult education that the parents of the students within our kindergarten through 12 schools can gain the education and literacy skills necessary to better their personal situations, thus benefiting all of California,” he wrote. “It is here that they can advance their own careers, obtain the skills for gainful employment and become better parents and more active participants in our communities.”
LAUSD must pass a budget prior to Friday, June 29.