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Adult education and other previously restricted programs suffer with new spending flexibility

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, May 26th, 2011 at 1:00 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

The state’s decision to allow school districts to raid funding for previously restricted programs such as adult education and Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) during the budget crisis has hurt those services, a new study shows.

According to the report released Thursday by the Rand Corp. and Policy Analysis for California Education, the state failed to clearly explain how districts should use the spending flexibility. Some gutted programs so they could divert the money into their general fund to fill budget holes, instead of reducing programs based on their effectiveness, researchers found.

The Mt. Diablo school board, which doesn’t have a strategic plan in place to help guide such decisions, cut $3.4 million in “Tier III categorical funding” for 2011-12, reducing intervention programs for students struggling to pass the High School Exit Exam, virtually eliminating its Gifted and Talented program, and cutting instructional materials, a high school Arts and Humanities Academy at Mt. Diablo High, professional development, “targeted instruction” funds, adult education and school site funding.

In anticipation that the governor’s proposed tax extensions may fail, trustees expect to consider additional cuts next month. The superintendent has been meeting with school and parent representatives for more than a month to come up with new cost-cutting and revenue-generating ideas.

These include more than $2 million more in cuts to adult education, school and library improvement grants, a peer assistance program for struggling teachers and a targeted grant expected to help pay for a new computer system.

So far, the adult education center has managed to retain most of its programs by scaling them back and increasing fees for some courses, such as art and career training, director Joanne Durkee told me in a phone interview. Since 2007-08, the programs have lost 42 percent of their funding, seeing the annual budget drop from $6.1 million to $3.4 million, she said.

That doesn’t include another $300,000 the board has cut from next year’s adult Lifelong Education classes such as cooking and gardening, Durkee said. This cut will force students to pay higher fees starting July 1, which could significantly reduce course offerings, if student support and interest diminishes, she said.

“We have a very thriving lifelong education program that’s been very supported by the community,” Durkee said. “Many (other district) adult education programs have shut those down, but what I’m trying to do is to ramp up, so that they’re fee-based. We’re close to them being completely fee-based, but we’re not there yet.”

At district budget cut meetings, some have suggested slashing another $1 million from adult education. This would eliminate all classes except those that help students receive high school diplomas and complete their GED requirements, and those that are self-funded or receive outside funding through grants and contracts. Durkee said this would devastate many other beneficial programs that help English language learners, students with disabilities and struggling teens and parents.

Already, she said, enrollment has dropped 51 percent from its 2007-08 level of 24,500 students.

“We’ve shrunk a lot,” Durkee said. “So, I’m hopeful that we can just kind of maintain and get through this (budget cutting) era here.”

Although an extensive list of proposed cuts and revenue-generating ideas has been developed for the districtwide budget meetings, it wasn’t attached to the most recent school board meeting agenda.

Here’s a list of some of the reductions the group has proposed (which don’t appear on the cut list that was attached to the board agenda and which don’t require negotiations):

- Reduce special education funding by $10 million to be in better alignment with the county average (using West Contra Costa USD expenditure of 25.17 percent)

- Reduce custodial hours based on school size. Create an FTE ratio at elementary, middle and high schools for custodians. Savings would be dependent on ratios.

- Reduce adult education by up to $1 million, funding only courses that assist students in receiving high school diplomas or GEDs. However, leave courses intact that are self-funded or that are funded by outside sources.

- Reduce the number of employees using PSN (personal?) days and sick days to save on substitute costs

- Reduce bus service by $1 million to the absolute minimum required by law

- Eliminate benefits for school board members, saving $32,000 a year

- Eliminate in class refrigerators and microwave ovens

- Consolidate small necessary schools to save $150,000

- Close all schools during winter and spring vacation

- Eliminate medical benefits for all

- Close Mt. Diablo HS and convert Riverview MS into a high school. Makd Shore Acres, Bel Air, Rio Vista and Delta View K-8 campuses

- Eliminate all district collaboration and training to reduce substitute costs

- Early retirement incentives

- Fully “sweep” Targeted Instructional Improvement Block Grant” of $693,000 (this money is budgeted to replace EduSoft)

- Reduce funding for each school site by 10 percent

- Save $110,000 by giving principals responsibility for supervising and evaluating custodians

- Freeze hiring

- Purchase electronic textbooks

The list also includes possible savings that would need to be negotiated and possible revenue enhancements. Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh told me that participants at the budget meetings ranked the cuts, based on what they would recommend.

Do you think the district should post the list developed at the budget cut meetings on its website?

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

  • Doctor J

    Yes, the district should post the proposed cuts and the amount estimated of the cuts. The district asked for input and it should not hide the ball.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Despite layoffs, furlough days and budget cuts, MDUSD has 100 job openings for 12 different types of positions, including an accountant, athletic coaches, teachers and special education professionals: http://bit.ly/lHZtL7.

  • Theresa Harrington

    As the school board grapples with decisions about which programs to cut, one mom speaks up for special education: http://www.contracostatimes.com/opinion/ci_18155178?nclick_check=1