Lucia Mar's end to some adult courses shocks some

Discontinuance of fee-based programs upsets longtime instructors

clambert@thetribunenews.comJuly 24, 2013 

Lucia Mar officials have eliminated all of the fee-based courses offered through its adult education program — forcing South County residents who had taken classes such as yoga and cooking to search for them elsewhere.

The cuts have upset some longtime instructors, who said they were blindsided by the news and that community members were unaware.

A district official, however, said teachers were told as soon as the decision was made to cut the classes. Nancy Miller, director of Special Programs including Adult Education, said instructors were told via email June 27.

The courses were eliminated in part because of the way the state plans to fund adult education programs in the future, with an increased emphasis on specific areas including GED preparation, English language development and credit recovery courses.

At the same time, a key member of the Adult Education staff accepted another job, and the district decided to cut its fee-based courses instead of hiring someone else to step into a temporary job, district spokeswoman Amy Jacobs said.

Miller said she’s working to find “community partners” to pick up some of the fall courses, such as the Arroyo Grande Recreation Services Department.

But that is little consolation to some longtime part-time instructors who felt they were left in the dark about the change, and only told after they happened to contact the district or their students started asking questions.

Those instructors voiced concern about the impact of the courses being cut on the community.

“There are a lot of retired people in the area, and their only connection to the school district is through Adult Education,” said part-time instructor Bobbi Porter, whose quilting class was the only fee-based course offered this summer. “There are people who are lifelong learners because of adult education. I think they (the district) just disregarded that whole part of the community.”

It’s unclear how the state shift in funding could affect other adult education programs in San Luis Obispo County.

Adult education programs offered through K-12 districts appear to be limited in the county, perhaps due in part to the state allowing the districts to use money dedicated to adult education for other uses when the economy began to decline a few years ago.

Paso Robles schools, for example, no longer offers an adult education program, and Templeton Unified offers courses for those seeking a high school diploma, but no fee-based classes.

San Luis Coastal district administrators, however, chose to keep its fee-based classes.

“We are trying to get a lot of our classes to run on student fees and grants,” said Judy Adkison, administrative assistant to the coordinator of the San Luis Coastal Adult School. “Right now, the district wants to keep adult ed as currently structured, and we’re doing fundraisers to make it work.”

The district will offer 84 fee-based classes this fall, including parenting classes that are funded with student fees, grant money and some district funds, Adkison said.

The fee-based courses offered through Lucia Mar, however, are not completely self-sustaining. Fees that students paid covered the cost of the instructors, materials and classroom space, but not any costs related to facilitating the program at the district level, Miller said.

The district would have to absorb the costs of running the fee-based classes if it decided to continue them, Miller said.

“For a very long time, we’ve been able to keep the costs very low for our public because it was a community service, but we can no longer afford to do that,” Miller said. “It’s a combination of things changing at the state level and at our district and the way we’re providing services.”

Miller said the state eventually plans to distribute funding for adult education to a regional consortium of adult education service providers including at least one community college district and one K-12 district. The group will develop a comprehensive plan for adult education in the region.

Miller said the district’s fee-based courses would need to be phased out in two years, and with a key staff member leaving, the superintendent and district staff made the decision at the end of June to cut the classes at this time.

The timing of the news was unfortunate, she said, adding, “We completely value these programs and our instructors. They provide a valuable service to our community, and we hope they continue their relationship long-term with Arroyo Grande or Pismo or Grover Beach.”

But Mary Jo Gabel, who has taught part-time for the district for more than 23 years, rated the district’s handling of the situation as poor.

“It was so abrupt,” she said. “For us to get an email saying that was it, it wasn’t professional.”

Added Porter: “I do realize change happens. But the reality is the general public doesn’t know, and there hasn’t been any mention of it, and it’s just going to be gone without anyone knowing anything.”

The Arroyo Grande Recreation Department will offer five courses taught by four separate instructors, including Porter and Gabel. Miller wouldn’t speculate on how many fee-based classes would have been offered through Lucia Mar this fall.

In the spring, 24 instructors taught 45 fee-based classes to a total of 817 students, Jacobs said. An additional 458 students participated in classes offered through the regular adult education program.

All but Porter’s class were canceled during the summer session because the district did not have enough staff available to handle enrollment and registration in addition to other ongoing duties, Miller said.

Any classes canceled in April, May and June were because of low enrollment, Jacobs said.

The adult education program will continue to offer opportunities for students to complete their high school diploma, prepare for the GED test, and learn English at learning centers in Oceano and Nipomo.

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