Waving signs and chanting slogans, hundreds of supporters of adult education held a rally in front of Venice High School May 5 to protest looming budget cuts to programs for adult schools.
The protest comes during the month where Los Angeles Unified School District board members will be examining budget priorities, and many at the rally do not think preserving adult education is on the school district’s radar.
In January, LAUSD officials notified educators and the school district’s Division of Adult and Career Education that schools like the Venice Skills Center could have their funds taken away due to the district’s massive budget shortfall.
“Having made systematic and significant cuts in programs and personnel over that period, and with no additional revenues forthcoming, I, and the Los Angeles Board of Education, are left with no choice but to seriously consider massive reductions in critical areas, including arts programs for elementary school students, adult education, and early childhood education,” LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement. “We must do all that we can to preserve (kindergarten) through 12 class size at acceptable levels for next year.”
Several protesters also demonstrated May 5 outside the local office of LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, which is across the street from the high school. Zimmer represents schools in Venice, Mar Vista, Del Rey and Westchester.
Ana Raquel Kines, a student at the Venice Skills Center, is taking a course using the accounting software programs QuickBooks and Access, skills that she feels will be useful when she begins looking for work.
In a speech near the high school’s auditorium, she thanked her teachers for empowering her when she was not sure that she would be able to complete some of her courses and implored the district not to defund adult education.
“It took me six months to pass it, but I did because of my teachers,” she told the crowd. “If they cut adult education, people like me won’t get the help they need.”
Kines, who identified herself as a learning disabled student, said she is in a small class with 10-12 classmates who learn at a slower pace than other students, but her instructors often work with the students individually.
“You can’t get that at a community college,” said Kines, who aspires to find work as an office assistant. “They’ve made me successful.”
Advocates of the adult program filled the board room in March when the school board considered slashing adult education services, after which the board proposed restoring 60 percent of the funding.
Alla Baskin, who teaches at the Venice Emerson Adult Community School, immigrated to the United States in 1988 and has been an adult school teacher for 22 years.
She enrolled in adult education classes when she arrived in her new country and says she can not only relate to their struggles, but she has also seen many graduate from college and prosper.
“I have watched many of their careers,” Baskin said. “I have also taught many immigrants who struggled to learn English, but after they learned, they have found jobs in places like McDonnell Douglas and Boeing.”
The Venice Neighborhood Council sent a letter to the board in December upon learning that LAUSD was considering slashing the adult education budget.
“The California Education Code (Sections 8500, 12050-12060) specifically states that all adults in California are entitled to certain rights that include the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to participate effectively in today’s economy and society and participate in courses designed to meet the particular needs of the local community,” wrote Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks.
“Dismantling such a program is not only shortsighted and illegal, but it is also an unconscionable act that could result in leaving many individuals and families without access to much needed resources. We urge you to abandon this decision, guarantee job programs and open your discussions and criteria for such a decision to the public immediately.”
The California Council of Adult Education is keeping an eye on what transpires in Los Angeles.
“We’re very, very concerned about how LAUSD proceeds on this because what happens in Los Angeles tends to happen throughout the state,” said Chris Nelson, the council’s president. “(Eliminating adult education) could have a disastrous effect on adult learners throughout the state.”
Venice Emerson-Adult Community School Principal Cynthia Tollette said that during her 30-plus years as an adult educator and administrator, she has never seen the situation so grim.
“There are 250,000 students that will be disenfranchised if (the budget cuts) happen,” she said. “Everyone at the school is so stressed. We’re on pins and needles.”
Students in adult education studies pursue a variety of academic paths, included learning English as a second language, taking courses in order to obtain a promotion at their places of employment and earn their general education certificate (GED), the equivalent of a high school diploma.
Jeremiah Andrews has been attending classes at the Venice adult school since August and wants to become an electrician. He realized that in order to pursue his career, he is required to pass algebra, the course that he is studying.
“The school is close to my home, so this makes it easy for me to come to class,” said Andrews, who lives in Culver City and works as a caterer. “This is my way to make a better future for myself and my family, and without it I would be stuck in my current job.
Nelson said school districts, including LAUSD, do not view adult students as equally as they do other students.
“It’s evident that they are not a priority,” he said. “A school district’s main mission is to educate K-12 students and matriculate them into institutions of higher learning.”
Tollete said educators in adult education programs also could become casualties of LAUSD budget cuts.
“It’s so disappointing,” she said. “People are completely frustrated.”
Zimmer did not return calls for comment.