By Edwin Folven, 2/16/2012
Adult Education, Early Childhood and Arts Programs Could Face Elimination
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education voted Tuesday to delay a decision until March 13 on budget cuts that could eliminate adult education schools, force hundreds of teacher layoffs and deeply impact arts and early child education programs.
The decision came after loud protests were held over the last week outside LAUSD headquarters downtown. Hundreds of demonstrators called for funding to be maintained for educational programs. Political figures, celebrities and other well-known public figures testified in opposition to cuts at the board meeting Tuesday, including City Councilmember Eric Garcetti, 13th District; dancer and choreographer Debbie Allen, and Matt Sorum, the drummer for the band, Guns N’ Roses. Susan Cox, a spokesperson for the LAUSD, said the decision was postponed until March to give Superintendent John Deasy more time to look for ways to close a projected $547 million budget deficit. LAUSD Boardmember Steve Zimmer called for the delay.
“Our partners, our employees, our families have sacrificed more than we ever imagined they would,” Zimmer said. “This amendment creates a pathway, builds a moment of opportunity to work together.”
There is a slim possibility that within the next few weeks, the state will come up with additional revenues for the district, Cox added. The current budget plan, which will now likely be revised, proposed the elimination of adult education, early childhood education, and arts education at the elementary school level. A second proposal by Zimmer approved Tuesday calls for a delay in sending out warning notices about layoffs to LAUSD employees until March 8. Cox said they will not know until early March how many layoffs might be necessary, but it would likely affect several thousand teachers and administrators, as well support staff members.
One of the district’s 30 adult and vocational schools impacted by the proposed cuts is Westside Adult School, which is headquartered at Fairfax High School. Westside Adult School principal Jim Chacon said the decision Tuesday offered hope that a compromise can be reached.
“I think it is about the best thing that could have happened,” Chacon said. “It gives them more time to come up with ideas.”
Protesters who gathered ahead of the Board meeting Tuesday voiced their concerns about the possible elimination of the programs. For many members of the crowd, adult schools are the only means of learning English or new job skills, or obtaining a high school diploma.
“I am here to save our schools, because if they close the schools, I won’t have any opportunity to learn,” said Marcelo Anderson, 71, who is enrolled in English courses at the Mid City Adult School, located at 1510 Cambria Street northwest of downtown Los Angeles. “They already cut ten hours a week from our classes, which used to be twenty hours a week. I’ve been taking classes for one year, and it has really helped me.”
Matthew Kogan, chair of the Adult Education Committee for United Teachers Los Angeles, which helped organize one of the rallies, said eliminating funding for the schools would be devastating for the local economy.
“Adult education helps people get better jobs, stronger paychecks, and finish their education,” Kogan said. “There will be a tremendous community impact. The Board needs to know that they will be hurting a lot of people if they cut adult education.”
Chacon said Westside Adult School serves approximately 6,000 students a year, and has an annual budget of approximately $6 million. He added that if funding were eliminated, approximately 60 teachers, four administrators and 30 support staff at the school would lose their jobs.
“Our hope is that they keep us intact as much as possible,” Chacon added.
Approximately 350,000 students are enrolled in adult education programs citywide. The annual budget for the district’s Division of Adult and Career Education is approximately $190 million. Cox said the overall LAUSD budget is $7 billion.
The proposed cuts could be reduced through a parcel tax on either the June or November ballot, Cox said, which would generate between $200 million and $300 million for the district annually over the next five years. The tax would require the support of two-thirds of the voters in Los Angeles County. Cox said whatever decision is reached at the March 13 board meeting, it is likely the budget negotiations would continue in an effort to prevent cuts and layoffs.
“I would imagine they would go on,” Cox added. “Everyday they are talking about the budget and how we can keep people working.”