By Charles Thomas
The Venice Skills Center continues to “hang in there,” thanks to community activism during the ongoing saga of the school district budget crisis. If you have followed this issue, then you are aware the Los Angeles Unified School District claims to be short of the funding needed to operate the network of adult education centers, the Venice Skills Center being one such location.
On March 13, the school board and superintendent convened in the much-anticipated vote, among other things, to decide the fate of adult education. The result, in full analysis, could be termed a mixed victory, of sorts. The bad part is that the board voted to “zero out” funding for adult ed; that is, that in a worst case scenario, pending further review, adult ed would be eliminated. The board, by majority vote, approved a budget plan in a worse case review of the numbers, leaving no provisions for adult ed, as they claim pressures for slashing the budget. Again, this would mean the end of adult ed and our beloved Skills Center. The good part is that a potential $180 million has, interestingly, been located by the superintendent in his reassessment of the budget, and these funds could keep adult ed afloat. The reassessment left the board and superintendent with a tentative plan keeping adult ed operating, but in a more limited capacity. Only ten of the district’s adult ed centers would continue, the Venice Skills Center being one of those.
The board also voted, in an effort to close further budget gaps, to place a parcel tax on the ballot for the elections this November. Such a levy on property owners, if approved, could raise another $255 million annually. In both these major votes (as to the budget itself and the parcel tax) the one dissenting vote came from board member Marguerite LaMotte. In LaMotte’s dissenting comments, she questioned the absolute need for drastic cuts and instead stated, “Let’s stop the wasteful spending.” LaMotte’s suggestion is a smoking gun. It is possibly a wake-up call as to what the situation really is at the LAUSD. Let’s examine wasteful spending going on whether it be a result of politics, or perhaps neglect, oversight and poor planning.
For example, as a student at the Venice Skills Center, I believe there is questionable expenditure with school police staffing. I note there are usually two uniformed school police officers on duty at the Center. The Skill Center campus is about one acre in size and the school grounds can be virtually seen and monitored almost entirely from a couple of vantage points. I’ll be the first to recognize the importance of school safety, but I have wondered if it was really necessary to have two police. One officer is a full-fledged “peace officer” (who carries a gun) and the other what is often referred to as a safety, or patrol, officer. This school term, one of the officers has been away (called up for his military reserve service, I am told) and things have been just fine in the “law and order” department. It has been orderly having one officer on duty, from what I have seen. I believe just a “police presence” is mainly what is needed, and that goes a long way.
The LAUSD budget pays for the operation of the school police. Salary information on the school police web site indicates that the starting salary is in the $49 to $59,000 range for an officer. If only one officer is really needed, then it could be wasteful spending having two. The point is, please look for examples such as this anywhere in LAUSD’s operations so we can bring them to the attention of board members; things they don’t see, or conveniently don’t want to see.
There are worthwhile ideas and suggestions to hear; ideas from students, teachers and others. You can come up with some. (Don’t leave it all to the school board.) You’re probably smarter than you think.
It is time for meaningful citizen input now as the school budget must be finalized by June 30, and that’s probably closer than you think. As to mounting meaningful forums for hearing ideas from the constituency, possibly we might have a friend in LaMotte, the board member with the courage to say, “Stop the wasteful spending.”
We thought we had a friend in board member Steve Zimmer. On February 9, Zimmer, who represents our district, came to the Skills Center to speak to students, teachers and others on the issue of budget cuts. A big part of this meeting was the “question and answer” segment. One of the most obvious questions on people’s minds was how Zimmer would vote as to the big budget question on continuing adult education. Would he go along with the proposal to gut adult ed, or resist? Zimmer’s rhetoric sounded real good. He sounded in support of his constituency’s issue at hand. With all said, however, Zimmer never directly responded to the specific issue of how he would vote. As one Skills Center instructor commented, “He managed to wiggle out of that one.” This can give pause and concern when dealing with politicians. It’s too bad Zimmer didn’t join with LaMotte in dissenting from a budget plan that would do away with our school. I am sorry Zimmer couldn’t find it in his heart to stand behind what he proposed to us on February 9.
The Los Angeles Times, in its March 14 article on this issue, quotes parent activist Lydia Grant as saying, “The district has never been good at keeping its promises.” Grant’s comment underscores what was set forth above. Zimmer again came to the Skills Center on March 28 for a more informal talk with a handful of teachers and a few students. Zimmer reiterated his belief that adult ed will survive for now and to expect the next “board moment” on their May 8 meeting when more significant information will probably emerge regarding what is going to happen. Zimmer himself believes the budget deficit to have been overestimated by about $40 to $55 million, explaining “we have a conservative CFO” (at the school district) and that is partly why the numbers skewed in a bleak direction. Zimmer says the availability of additional funds will depend on the success of labor negotiations with the teacher’s union. Between the union and district, there is arbitration in progress regarding furlough days, and the outcome could bring in another $60 million.
The final analysis seems to be a big “we don’t know” and “wait and see” depending on whose numbers are to be believed. Again, community activism is paramount to stay on course seeing the Skill Center’s survival through, with the least damage. In large part, it’s up to the people.
Please visit http://lastudents.org and http://saveadulted.org for suggestions to contact your elected representatives. These sites also list events and especially the rallies where we have demonstrated our numbers and show of support.
A rally, one was held on March 13 at the LAUSD Headquarters. The rally was yet another exciting event, slightly different from the first one in February in that we were an even feistier collective. The fashion statement of solidarity was a show of red T-shirts and ribbons worn headband style. There was food and a “disco-capable” sound system set up on a platform, with dancing in the street. These activities might induce you to attend a rally on behalf of this issue, as they are enjoyable perks, and besides contributing your presence to a worthy cause, there is also some fun to be had. Again, please see one of the aforementioned websites and . . . . . join us!