Martin Mendoza dropped out of school at any early age because, as he recalled, he never saw the value in having an education.
More than 20 years later, Mendoza now sees how important obtaining his high school diploma is, but if a proposal by the Los Angeles Unified School District to take away funding from adult education programs is approved later this year, his dream will be put on hold indefinitely.
“I don’t even want to think about it,” Mendoza lamented.
Mendoza and his classmates at the Venice Community Adult School, as well as students enrolled in classes at LAUSD’s Division of Adult Career and Education are facing the possibility of having their studies interrupted after learning last month that the division could soon become another casualty in the district’s budget wars.
In January, following an outcry by adult school educators and students, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy stated as much, touching on the fact that despite the district’s cutbacks over several years, LAUSD officials are in a difficult financial position.
“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,” 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.”
The school district is facing a $543 million budget shortfall for 2012-13.
Venice Community Adult School Principal Cynthia Tollette is saddened that her school could soon lose its funding, but noted that the students would not be the only ones that could become budget casualties.
“Lots of our teachers are career adult ed instructors,” she said. “Some of them don’t have a K-12 credential, so this would be the end of their employment.”
The principal said funding to the district’s adult programs comprise 2 percent of its budget.
“We’re willing to take our share of cuts, but why should we have to be eliminated?” she asked. “Why aren’t we equally cutting everybody?”
Venice Neighborhood Council Education Committee chair Cindy Chambers has long held a very passionate interest in education, especially in initiatives that assist adults in continuing their academic careers or serve as a stepping-stone to other employment opportunities.
“I question the reality of the need to close adult education programs,” said Chambers. “They offer educational assistance to a broad cross-section of the public.”
The Venice adult school was merged with the Emerson Adult School in Westchester, which closed two years ago in what some educators believe was the beginning of a plan to sacrifice adult programs at the expense of others.
Mendoza has attended the adult school, which is housed at Venice High School, since June. He worries that he will not be able to help his 8-year-old twins with their homework without his reading and comprehension courses.
Being able to assist them with school projects as well as make a better life for them was his primary impetus to enrolling in adult school, he said.
“I never had the time to go to school and I never knew that I could set (academic) goals for myself and help my kids,” Mendoza said. “Sometimes they ask me, ‘Dad, help me with my homework’ and I can’t help them.
“How can I tell them to stay in school if I can’t show them a good example?”
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.
“I have goals that I want to accomplish,” Andrews added.
Adult education advocates like Tollette and Chambers view these programs as an educational safety net for those seeking additional academic growth or students like Mendoza, who want to obtain their general equivalence diplomas, or GEDs.
“Without the safety net of adult education, so many of our community members that have dropped out of school would not have the opportunity to get their GED or career training,” Tollette said. “With Los Angeles having one of the lowest literacy rates in the country, to say that we don’t care about people improving their lives sends a message that we don’t care.”
Chambers, who has an undergraduate degree in women’s studies and multicultural urban affairs and a master’s in higher education administration training and development, says she has utilized the Venice Skills Center, which is also facing elimination, during times when she has been unable to find work.
“I’ve used the Venice Skills Center as an opportunity to increase my professional skill set,” said Chambers, who works in corporate training and development. “I am an example of how useful these programs can be.”
Mendoza, who is his school’s council representative, said the possibility of the adult school closing without obtaining his GED would be a revisit to his past that he does not want to consider.
“That would mean that I failed again,” said Mendoza, who in his youth was involved with gangs and who now aspires to be a drug and alcohol counselor or gang intervention specialist. “That’s all I did when I was young, and I made a commitment to become more educated and be a better father to my kids.
“I want to break that cycle of failure and this education has taught me so much…. how to read and understand things,” Mendoza continued. “And I don’t want to lose that.”
Tollette said each year brings additional obstacles for adult education and this year looks especially challenging. “I’ve been in adult education for 36 years, and I’ve never seen it this bad,” the principal said.
Calls and emails to LAUSD officials for comment for this story were not returned at press time.
Supporters of adult education are slated to rally outside LAUSD headquarters Feb. 9 at 1:30 p.m. and have set up a website, www.saveadulted.org.
The site includes information about a letter writing campaign to save the programs as well as petitioning LAUSD to halt the proposed elimination of adult education funding.
Tollette said the school board will be making recommendations on adult education funding Tuesday, Feb. 14.