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As the Los Angeles Unified School District continues to search for ways to address a $470 million budget deficit, administrators for the district’s local adult education school are hoping that further cuts to their budget will not be necessary.
Although the district’s budget for 2010/11 has not yet been finalized and more cuts could be instituted, preliminary projections by the LAUSD’s Adult and Career Education Division show that the adult schools will not have their budgets slashed because money was set aside in 2009 to be used for the upcoming school year. The State of California cut funding to adult schools by 20 percent last year, but district officials cut the adult school budgets by 30 percent, holding the additional 10 percent — approximately $3.5 million — for future use.
“We did the hard cut, and now we have stability because we put ten percent in the bank,” said Ed Morris, executive director of the LAUSD’s Adult and Career Education Division. “We expect everything to be stable, smooth and sustainable at this point.”
That was great news for administrators at the Westside Education and Career Center (WECC), which is based at Fairfax High School and offers classes in several satellite locations throughout the community like Park La Brea, Pan Pacific Park and Plummer Park in West Hollywood. WECC principal Jim Chacon said he had already made deep cuts to classes last year, and he worried about how further cuts would affect the already depleted schedule of classes. WECC currently has approximately 9,800 students enrolled in classes, with the largest numbers in English as a second language, high school diploma, vocational, and older adult courses. Last year, ESL classes were cut by 24 percent, and vocational courses were cut by 43 percent, according to Chacon. One of the areas where cuts are particularly painful is in classes for seniors, which Chacon said he hopes to preserve at all costs.
“Classes for seniors are very important, and when [they are] cut, it really impacts them. Even though our programs are very valuable to the community, we are vulnerable in a budget situation like this,” Chacon said.
The first LAUSD meeting on the upcoming budget for the adult education division will be held next week, and administrators will be lobbying to keep the current budget intact. WECC has a current budget of approximately $5.3 million, of which 94 percent goes for teacher and administrative salaries. If the WECC’s budget is reduced further, it would mean laying off teachers and eliminating more classes, Chacon said.
“A lot of it is based on the federal and state budget, and they haven’t given us specifics yet,” Chacon added. “We are being told that our budget will be the same as this year, but we are also being told that could change.”
Chacon and the previous WECC principal Paul Hamel, who retired last year, said they were disappointed that the district is not supportive of a fee-based classes program that could generate some money for the WECC and could enable more classes to remain open in tough budgetary periods. Hamel instituted fee-based classes at WECC in 2006, which cost the students $40 to $60 per class for specialty courses such as foreign language study, advanced computer, art and physical fitness. Hamel said the district abruptly discontinued the program in 2008.
“The goal was to make sure there were classes in the community, and to see if people were willing to pay for a little more to keep classes open,” Hamel said. “We started with a couple, and it grew to about thirty classes. It was coming along well, but by the end of three years, it was shut down. The potential was there.”
Morris said the fee-based classes were “not cost effective” for the district because the fees only covered some of the costs of holding the extra classes.The district ended up having to pay for leases in buildings where the classes were being held in some cases, and the fees did not cover the entire costs of instructor salaries, Morris said.
“The fee-based classes were not paying for themselves. They provided support, but they were not cost neutral,” Morris added. “The previous principal was doing a pilot program that was unsuccessful, to my knowledge, and costing the district more than it was producing.”
Hamel admitted that the program had not been around long enough to begin supporting itself before it was discontinued. He added, however, that it would have become cost effective if given more time. Other adult schools, such as Beverly Hills, have operated fee-based programs for years. Twila Cook, director of adult education and alternative education for the Beverly Hills Adult School, which has about 3,000 students, said fee-based classes have allowed them to keep courses open in that community.
“In our community, life-long learning is important, so we offer a lot of classes in the community and people pay a little more. It’s things like on-camera commercial acting, yearly finance, wills and living trusts, Ikebana Japanese flower arranging, jewelry making and culinary classes,” Cook said. “Many adult schools have cancelled classes like this, but we are trying to keep them going.”
Many people in the local community who take classes through WECC are also hopeful that their courses will continue.
“We want these classes and we need these classes,” said Shahla Tauakloi, of West Hollywood, who takes computer classes through the WECC. “I have to look for work, and I need these classes. It is the only place I can get the instruction that I need.”
Others, including Matian Farazeh, of West Hollywood, said she would not know where to turn if the adult education classes were cancelled.
“These computer and ESL classes have been very helpful,” Farazeh said. “Please don’t cut these classes, because we need them very much.”
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