By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor, Random Lengths News (San Pedro) http://bit.ly/zDtk1k
Thursday, 23 February 2012 :: While President Barack Obama broadly stressed the importance of education and workforce retraining in his State of the Union address, students, teachers, parents and advocates have been mobilizing to prevent Los Angeles Unified School District from making a half billion dollars in cuts at the expense of adult education.
Nationwide, state and local budget cuts have reduced workforces substantially, even as the private sector has been adding jobs continually for the past 23 months. From the highest levels in 2009 through the lowest levels in the first six months of 2011, job losses have totaled 137,860 in state governments and 570,711 in local governments, according to data from the Bureau of Labor statistics. Teachers make up a significant chunk of the latter, along with police and fire departments. So what’s happening with LAUSD is part of a significant nationwide pattern.
The school board first broached the subject in December 2011, when it appeared as a budget proposal at a board meeting. Adult education supporters have been protesting the proposals since.
On Feb. 14, the school board decided to delay the vote until March 13. The cuts, which total $557 million would ultimately shutdown 30 district facilities, including Harbor Occupational Center. However, supporters aren’t planning to let up the pressure anytime soon.
“This is not the final vote,” said Trudy Hawkins, principal of Harbor Occupational Center in San Pedro. “We still need to keep the word out. we still need people saying we need adult education."
Harbor Occupational Center serves about 7,772 students and employs about 60 part-time and full-time teachers and 30 classified staff members, all of whom stand to lose, where they to completely cut funds for adult education.
Random Lengths News made an effort to contact LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, but the district’s spokeswoman Susan Cox said he was not commenting on the matter. Cox did provide the paper with a general statement that read:
“LAUSD has to date been confronted with annual deficits of at least $400 million, including a shortfall of at least $543 million for the 2012-13 school year,” The statement from Deasy read. “As a whole, funding to the District from Sacramento has been reduced by an estimated $2.5 billion over the past five years.
“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. We must do all that we can to preserve K-12 class size at acceptable levels for next year."
No Impacts on K-12
But cutting adult education would still have a negative impact on K through 12 students, Hawkins argued.
“If we didn’t have adult ed. and if parents were not trained, how would they feed the children?” she asked, rhetorically. “There is no way, if they don’t get a job, that they are going to be able to take care of the children. So, adult ed. is very, very important."
The board requested that Superintendent John Deasy return on March 8 with alternatives that save jobs and prevent program cuts, instructing him to work with the state, his staff and unions to develop a proposal. Deasy must prepare a revenue-generating parcel tax referendum to be voted on June or November ballots, or the March 2013 ballot.
The superintendent also was allowed to prepare layoff notices for non-tenured early education teachers and support staff, a precautionary process required in case of cuts. Cuts could impact about 5,000 employees, including teachers and classified personnel, who could receive pink slips. For the fourth consecutive year, the board has approved the dismissal of thousands of teachers in its effort to balance the district’s budget.
“Of all of LAUSD’s programs, adult education gives the highest return on the lowest investment,” Hawkins said. “Adult ed. is very, very efficient. It is only 2 percent of the LAUSD budget. Adult ed. has 2.8 percent of the district’s schools and centers, yet adult ed. accounts for 27 percent of the district’s student enrollment.
“Adult ed.is awarded grants and earns federal funding. In 2010, 11 were for a budget of $170 million. Adult ed. returned over $26 million to the LAUSD general fund.” About 350,000 adult education students would be affected throughout the district. Early education and arts programs also are in danger.
The board was considering banking on $557 million proposed state and local revenue initiatives, making $194 million cuts and using $362 million in new revenue sources, or make $557 million in cuts.
This past December, Gov. Jerry Brown announced $134.5 million cuts in programs for adult education. In reality, the cuts would total $269 million because the state provides matching funds to the district.
In the past three years the district has cut about $2 billion and is facing about a $500 million deficit.
More than 3,000 students signed a letter asking for district’s support in maintaining adult education, many of whom joined educators on Feb. 14 to demonstrate against the proposal at the board meeting.
Marco Vásquez, a 31-year-old student at Harbor Occupational Center is one of those students. He said that he arrived to the United States from Nayarit, Mexico 11 years ago, was working two jobs and had no direction.
“As soon as I got into Harbor Occupational Center, finally I had direction,” said Vásquez, waving his ASE certification. “All the programs here honestly work and they deliver. I have proof right here; I have my certificate."
Not only has his experience at the center made it possible to build a secure financial future for him and his family, there also have been secondary effects.
“I grew as a person,” he said. “My self-esteem went up, I never struggle for money anymore and I can see that if they shut down the classes, it’s going to make a huge impact in other people,” he said.
So far, he’s attained certificates in brakes, electrical, engine performance and engine repair. He needs to complete five more certifications for automotive technology. In an economic environment as tough as this one, skills in automotive technology is still in high demand.
“What it means is that the program works,” he said. “If it works for me, it can work for anybody."
And yet, for others like diesel technology and welding student Frank Murillo, who has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, attending Harbor Occupational Center is a tradition. The 20-year-old student went to the center soon after graduating from high school. His disability makes it hard for him to concentrate and working with hands offered an attractive alternative. He said that every time he completes a course he is motivated to move forward.
“I wanted to come here because my family came to this school,” said Murillo, who has been a student at the school for the past year. “When I grow old, I want my kids to come here… If (they) close it down, it’s going to be terrifying because I really like this job and its been helping me and in the future it’s going to get me a good job. For other students such as Francisco Federico, adult education offers second chances. He’s only been at the center for six months but in that time he’s attained a certificate in technology 1 and 2, and a forklift certification. “My goal is to try to get a job because I came from the streets,” Federico, 35, said. “I had no direction. I was lost in gangs and drugs. Now that I’ve come here to Harbor Occupational Center, I see a hope in trying to change my life and trying to get a job so I can be a productive member of society.”
Hope is a common theme said Lisa Andrade, Disability Services advisor.
“You can come here to make your life different and to get a job and to be self-sufficient in society,” Andrade said. “And, that is pretty much what we’ve provided for the community for the last 42 years."
That certainly is the case for María Peña, who is legally blind.
“For me this school is important because they give us the opportunity to be an independent person and find a job,” said Peña, a 48-year-old business administration student. “My life changed since I started coming to this school. It was completely down. And, to know I had a better future and don’t need to depend on another person, changes your life."
The Economic Impact on the City
Harbor Occupational Center’s Assistant Principal Victor Abadia said the school understands that there needs to be cuts, but adult education students and educators would prefer that those cuts be made proportionally.
Referencing a finding from the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and a letter from State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, Abadia noted the greater economic impacts considering that the Los Angeles has the highest rate of under-educated working adults of any metropolitan area in the country, that more than one-third of the district’s students are in the adult division programs and less than 2 percent of the budget goes toward the cost of those programs, and that cutting adult education would impact the health and jail system detrimentally to individuals and their families.
“Let’s say we use 300,000 students that we serve and we look at the return on investment,” Abadia said. “Assume a job of $10 an hour, that’s a little more than 20,000 a year. When we tax the individual that comes to about $1,800 a year. And, since there are provisions to get some of that money into education at a rate 37.9 percent, that represents about $700 that would not get into education.
“If we assume an attrition of 60 percent, we end up with about $2 million that will be lost. That represents $224 million in state revenue and that represents about $85 million that will be lost in education."