Adult school programs feel budget cuts

Because of budget cuts affecting school districts all over California, several education programs around the state are being eliminated, and others are facing financial challenges. To help cover these shortfalls, some districts are grabbing money that had been set aside for adult schools.

Lucia Mar Unified School District’s adult education is an umbrella for several such programs. Courses to obtain a GED, vocational courses, the English-learning program, classes for older adults and community classes are all offered.

Lucia Mar’s adult ed program didn’t start until the 1970s. California started offering GED and diploma classes after World War II for returning veterans.

Charlissa Boaz-Skinner has been the adult ed principal for Lucia Mar since the 2006-07 academic year. Prior, she taught kindergarten and administered after-school programs for the district.

She began as half-time principal, and the next year the position became fulltime. Because of budget cuts, in addition to her role as principal, Boaz-Skinner will be providing support to the after-school program’s director.

Boaz-Skinner said this is one of the fortunate programs in the state, as the Lucia Mar school board is “very supportive of adult ed.”

Santa Maria’s adult ed program has ended with that district using its adult ed money toward regular school programs. Some of the adult students have contacted Lucia Mar about classes.

Budget cuts for the state school districts have been deep during the past two school years. There is still federal and state money going toward the GED program and English-language classes. Until this past school year, those classes were free. Now there are new registration and material fees.

Michele Cossey of Grover Beach has been teaching English-language classes for 15 years.

Classes are taught in Nipomo and Oceano, and fees have started to be applied. Cossey worries about “the impact that this will have on lower-income people in the community.”

Summer classes in the English-learner program have been canceled this year because of budget cuts. Cossey said that in Nipomo, the majority of students are Latinos.

In the Oceano program, there are students from all over the world, including South America, Central America, Mexico, Korea, Japan, Hungary, Italy and the Philippines.

Of these students, 80 percent to 90 percent have children. They say a main reason they want to learn English is to help their kids with schoolwork.

Massage therapy is a new vocational program that has been started in Pismo Beach by teacher Deborah Heartwood, who put the whole program together through Lucia Mar Adult School. It is certified for 250 hours and currently the only program of its kind south of Atascadero.

Nisa King has been teaching qigong (a form of exercise from China) and brain exercises through adult ed since 2007. Like most adult-ed teachers, her classes have been reduced, and higher fees are being charged to cover costs. King came to the Central Coast from Bangkok, Thailand.

Boaz-Skinner has had to make all community classes into fee-based classes, because the state no longer gives adult-ed programs money based on the number of students attending.

The older-adult program, which has teachers run exercise, crafts and music classes in care facilities, is almost completely eliminated both at Lucia Mar and at San Luis Coastal adult schools because of funding cuts.

Boaz-Skinner runs the adult-ed program out of the Oceano Community Center with the help of two assistants, Debbie Jensen, student records specialist; and Corinne Van Buschbach, receptionist. A third assistant, Ruth Vega, an accounting technician, is retiring this month and will not be replaced. Her responsibilities will be absorbed by others.

Jensen has worked in the adult-ed program since 2001. She laments losing a full-time staffer but said, “The staff that we are able to maintain is a strong team.” Van Buschbach came here two years ago from Washington state, and before that from south of London, England, .

Editor’s note: Gayle Cuddy works for Lucia Mar as an adult-ed teacher of Writing From Life and Exercise for People with Arthritis classes.

South County Beat appears every other week. Anyone with story ideas involving interesting people in the South County can reach Gayle Cuddy at 489-1026 or nightengayles@aol.com.