Development/Gentrification

The Venice Skills Center Is In Danger of Losing Its Funding

By Charles Thomas

The Venice Skills Center, our adult education and training school, is threatened with losing its budget.

Once again a governmental agency claiming “budget woes” threatens to kill a pillar of the Venice community.  The Venice Skills Center has provided low-cost (and in some cases free) quality educational opportunities for over 40 years.

The Skills Center offers classes in relevant on-the-job skills training.  These classes are primarily in the genre of computers, dental and medical assisting.  The computer classes cover the most important areas of making older adults, and others, more marketable to secure employment and get back on their feet in this troubled economy.  A number of the adult students at the Skills Center are unemployed (receiving unemployment or on “general relief”), trying to bone-up on the new technology that will make them competitive once again in the job market.  Some are homeless (as was the case of this writer, until recently) and others struggle to make ends meet while seeking to better themselves through education.

We, the people of Venice, recently went through the threatened demise of the historical Venice Post Office.  Community action and activism accomplished a “stay of execution” for this loved and appreciated staple of the community, as we know it.  But, we are not “out of the woods” with the Post Office.  These things are ongoing challenges.  There is a new challenge.  It is time once again to mobilize, this time for the Skills Center.  Many of you are familiar with the Skills Center located on Fifth Street, just a couple of blocks south of Rose.  It is the attractive and functional-looking modern structure featuring the rotunda-like ground level “commons area.”

The current threat to the Skills Center is coming from the powers that be in the Los Angeles Unified School District.  The LAUSD administers the Skills Center and controls funding for the adult educational programs thereof.  The LAUSD has, over time, cut funding for these programs claiming ongoing budget deficits that will not provide for continued operation.  I personally have seen and been affected by these cuts, which sorely impacts the disenfranchised.  I once enjoyed the automobile repair class (auto shop) offered by the adult evening program held at Venice High School.  In that class, we (the students) could bring in our own cars to work on them, and get repairs and maintenance done ourselves.  Being one of Venice’s homeless living in a vehicle (at that time) it was vitally important to keep my car running.  I depended on my Chevy for shelter.  In auto shop, I was learning a skill and learning self-sufficiency, too.  It was about the only way I could afford car maintenance (having to only cough up money for auto parts – a challenge in itself).  Unfortunately, this class was axed by LAUSD along with all the other classes in the adult evening program.  Venice High’s adult evening program, as funded and within my means by LAUSD is no more.  It happened at Venice High and it can happen at the Skills Center.  Without an organized community effort, the Skills Center will go on the chopping block, too.

The LAUSD School Board will hold an emergency budget meeting on February 14.  Word circulating is that this will not be a pleasant valentine.  Word circulating as well as published preponderance of evidence says the School Board will vote to “do away” with adult education.  Please see the L.A. Times Adult Education On L.A. Unified’s Chopping Block (January 28th – by Sandy Banks).  According to this article, the current proposal before the Board would leave no money for the adult educational programs.  That assessment is backed up by the current issue of Los Angeles Business (January 2012, Vol. 1, No. 1).  If the Board votes as such to cut adult education, then the Skills Center would likely be shut by June according to an instructor with whom I spoke at the Center.

LAUSD’s motivations and budget claims could be questionable considering the attractive possibility of selling or leasing the Skills Center property.  The Skills Center is located on choice property indeed, and that location could provide a hefty cash flow for the School District – a lucrative proposition.  Unfortunately, such cash lust would be at the expense of those seeking the educational opportunities currently offered.  The Skills Center’s locale would make a great corporate satellite location for, say, Yahoo or Google, and others advancing the gentrification of Venice.  If you think LAUSD doesn’t know what it could get for the Skills Center property, then there’s some swamp land in Florida I would like to talk to you about.

Also questionable is the School Board’s appreciation and understanding of what actually goes on at the Skills Center.  Does the School Board really “get it” that the Skills Center is one of the most important outlets for providing those of humble means with the technical knowledge to gainful employment?  The Skills Center instructor (just mentioned above) quipped that “the School Board thinks we do yoga here.”  Well, no one is saying there’s anything wrong with yoga, but if this remark is accurate, then it seems the “board of education” itself needs educating.  (Ironic, huh?)

So, the community is called upon again to help preserve our Venice.  What can you do?  Please sign our petition circulating.  We are gathering signatures to present to the Board in advance of the February 14 meeting.  The petition simply states, “Adult Education is essential for better jobs through education.  Adult Education is essential for helping parents help their children.  Adult Education is a pathway to economic recovery and its elimination will make the recession worse.”

Please support this petition if you are approached by students (and others) advocating for the Skills Center.  You can also drop by the Vera Davis Community Center (California Avenue at Electric Avenue) to sign.  For those preferring the Internet, you can “electronically” give support by signing the petition found at Change.org.  Please go to Change.org and do a search under “Defend adult education for the 99% in Los Angeles.”  Then click on the link to the petition.  In addition to the petition, please also telephone the following automated phone system to voice your support.  The phone number is 323-929-2529. Please tell your School Board member to STOP CUTS TO ADULT EDUCATION!  Please voice support on this issue to your governmental and civic representatives.

More Internet advocacy can be found on Facebook.  For our Facebook friends, the “hash tag” is #saveadulted! to connect with the like-minded on this matter, and for further information and happenings.  The Rally To Save Adult Education is scheduled for February 9 at 1:30 p.m. at the LAUSD Headquarters – 333 South Beaudry Ave., Los Angeles.  The aforementioned School Board meeting on February 14 is set for 1:00 p.m. at LAUSD Headquarters.  (At press time, it is unknown exactly when the budget matter on adult education will be heard as other items are on the docket for this 1:00 p.m. meeting.)  Please visit saveadulted.org for yet further happenings and resources to make your voice heard.

Please get involved with any of the above events and access the resources listed for a positive change.  Our collective efforts can help ensure the survival of the Venice Skills Center.  The Skills Center (like the Post Office, the Ocean Front Walk, the Pier, Abbot Kinney or the drum circle) is an institution, and part of what makes our community what it is.  The Skills Center is a vital part of the gentle principality of Venice.  Let’s keep it going for the sake of our present, and future generations to benefit from.

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