‘State of Emergency’ as Sweetwater Eliminates ROP, Cuts Adult Education

Published March 13, 2013 by Imperial Beach Patch.

Emma Miller is a mother of five and has taught a parenting class for parents with preschool-­age children at the adult school for more than three decades in Imperial Beach.

Many of the parents are young and need guidance. Others are single parents or in a military family where the father is often away.

“A lot of the administrators, my colleagues, want to be elementary teachers. And I said no. I learned so much as a parent that I want to give back to the community and help the young mothers out to be parents out so their kids don’t go on drugs,” she said.

Miller joined more than 100 members of the community who came to a Sweetwater Union High School District meeting Monday evening to plead with school board members to keep its adult education, Career Technical Education and Regional Occupational Program classes.

ROP classes include everything from culinary arts and auto technology to fire science and maritime courses, taught at Mar Vista High School.

The elimination of ROP was approved with a 2­2 tie vote. In the instance of a 2­2 vote, Board Member Arlie Ricasa’s abstain vote goes as a “yes” in this case, said Superintendent Ed Brand.

Adult school funding will also be reduced 28 percent, according to district spokesman Manuel Rubio.

Brand recommended that the approximate $3 million in funds typically given to adult education and ROP be used to help balance the district’s budget and pay for other priorities like roof maintenance, home­to­school transportation and substitutes.

Some teachers facing layoffs due to the cuts may return if additional funding from the state or county is received in May, Brand said. The state education code requires that the district notify certificated staff that will receive pink slips by March 15.

More than 50 people, some speaking through a translator, said cuts would hurt the local economy, keeps individuals from being able to advance their own educations and adversely impact poor people who rely on the programs.

Vanessa Helario takes a phlebotomy class at Chula Vista Adult School. Her 17­year­old son is in the Maritime Academy at Mar Vista High School.

“I am working hard to acquire employment in a field where I can support my family and be completely removed from any form of assistance,” she said.

ROP is also important for her son to get certification he can later apply to a career.

“I have a 17­year­old son currently taking an ROP class in maritime studies at Mar Vista High School,” she said. “He is working hard to develop a career and remove himself from becoming another low­income statistic.”

Alba Pena also takes adult education medical courses and feels the district ignores its mission statement by cutting ROP and adult education classes.

“You have to look at a lot of these children on the west side (of Chula Vista) that have to go out and work after high school so they can get money to support their families,” she said.

Board Member Pearl Quinones called the cuts a “state of emergency” and repeatedly asked how a district with a budget of more than $350 million can’t come up with a few million to keep a program of vital importance.

“That’s a drop in the bucket to continue to educate our kids. That’s nothing to continue ROP,” she said.

“I find it like it’s such a state of emergency,” she said. “I’ve talked to the staff, I’ve talked to the teachers. They’re scared. We’re dismantling a program that is getting awards that all the kids are so excited, I mean it’s thriving. And we’re destroying it right now prematurely,” she said.

The vote does not dismantle ROP, Ricasa said.

The San Diego County Office of Education has not committed to giving money from the state to the district and state funding that used to be set aside for ROP can now be used in other ways, Ricasa said.

“He (the governor) has not, nor has the legislator, put in any safeguards to say that we’re going to make sure you can do those (ROP, adult education) in your community. That’s what were up against and that’s the challenge,” she said

Changes to how money gets to the district will continue to present challenges in the future, Ricasa said.

“So that puts us in a very bad bind. That doesn’t give us any solid number for us to work with right now,” she said. “This is the challenge we’re going to have to deal with: local control funding issues.”

Based on a motion made by Board Member John McCann, any money sent to the district by the San Diego Office of Education will go to funding ROP programs.

The teachers may leave and go to other school districts before money arrives in May, Quinones said. Other school districts in tight financial situations have found the money to continue their ROP programs and Sweetwater should do the same.

“Right now we’re laying off all these teachers, 60 I’ve counted,” she said. “We’re laying them off right now. Do you know that Grossmont, and I know this because I’ve spoken to them, they’re already recruiting our teachers over there.”

This is why people need to come to board meetings, said Board Member Bertha Lopez.

“About a year ago the decision was made to purchase iPads versus getting those CTE classes for our students and this is not justified,” she said. “You need to come, not just today because it affects you adult education and also CTE. You need to be present at board meetings to find out what’s going on in this community.” 

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