Don’t cut Lincoln’s adult education program

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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I won’t want to be a school board trustee this week. The five trustees had to cut $5.75 million Tuesday for next year’s Western Placer Unified School District’s budget. Community members spoke eloquently against eliminating ESL classes at the Feb. 21 and Tuesday school board meetings. The board’s approval of budget reductions was given at a special meeting Tuesday. Budget cut consequences will include eight furlough days for all employees, increased class sizes, classified staffing reductions, no increases in benefit caps and 20 percent reductions to operating budgets. Among those losing positions at the end of this school year will be 11 elementary school teachers and .5 full-time equivalent-certificated elementary assistant principal administrator positions. In addition, the adult education program will disappear, as it now stands. Adult education has already been cut drastically in the last several years. It consists today of a beginning-intermediate combination ESL and an advanced ESL (English as a Second Language) class and a GED (General Educational Development) prep class. The adult education office staff said Tuesday that the ESL and GED prep classes cost the district $40,000 a year. That covers three teachers, an administrator 20 percent of the time, a secretary 15 percent of the time and a clerk for 1 1/2 hours. But eliminating adult education will not save that much money in the long run. What it will do is send a very negative message to the community. Cutting this program will tell Lincoln’s Hispanic population that they’re not really part of our community and it will also hurt their income. Lincoln’s Hispanic population, according to 2010 Census figures, is 7,597 or 17. 7 percent of the total population (42,819). “If there were no ESL classes here, some students would stop learning. Most of our students have immigrated and some barely have a third-grade education,” said ESL teacher Ramey Dern. ESL students, who are 18 and older, learn how to write effectively and how to communicate, according to Dern. That ranges from communicating at work to meeting basic needs such as visiting the doctor or arranging mechanic services. Approximately a total of 200 students are in the adult education program’s three classes, according to Jeanine Troxel, alternative ed secretary. Students’ residency in Lincoln varies from three months to 12 years. “Our job as teachers is to help our students pass the ESL classes so they can move on to GED classes and eventually go to community college,” Dern said. The importance of that is so “they can be productive citizens of our community and so that they can be role models for their children,” Dern added. While most students are from Mexico, some students are from China, Korea, El Salvador and Peru. If ESL goes away, Dern said, “Students lose their livelihood. A lot of students are out of work and they’re taking the classes to help in their job applications.” Troxel also said that ESL classes improve students’ salaries. “There are a limited number of jobs for Spanish-speaking individuals in Lincoln. There’s the coffee company; Gladding, McBean, among the few companies providing them jobs,” Troxel said. “I learned from one of my students who got a job waiting tables that knowing more English means more money. When her English improved, her tips improved.” While ESL classes have been offered in Lincoln for about 20 years, Troxel said, the need for ESL classes has not diminished. “We have the stereotype of immigrants not wanting to learn, of not making the effort to learn English,” Dern said, “but I witness them wanting to learn every day. And here’s our community wanting to take their learning away. It’s backward.” Supporting ESL doesn’t only help the students; it also helps the whole Lincoln community. “They’re becoming positive citizens of our community,” Dern said. Dern and Troxel have not given up on keeping the adult education program operating. “The approval of the board was stipulated to possible changes between now and June as several items are still being negotiated,” Troxel said. “Ramey and I are working together to come up with a possible dollar amount to suggest to admin for adult education students to pay upon enrollment and maybe at each grading period.” The Lighthouse Counseling & Family Resource Center recognizes the importance of ESL classes. “English continues to be the primary language in America. Therefore, it’s critical that people are fluent enough in the language to fill out applications, communicate with doctors, school personnel and others in order to advocate for themselves and their families,” said the Lighthouse Counseling & Family Resource Center executive director Angela Ponivas. “Otherwise, survival is more challenging and dependency on others becomes a way of life.” “I know that the WPUSD is faced with some tough decisions,” Ponivas said. “Lighthouse wants to be part of community solutions, and if those services are cut, we will strive to fill the gaps and work in partnership with the WPUSD in determining how best to meet the community’s need in this area.”