Berkeley’s Adult Education Program Faces Severe Budget Cuts

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Saturday March 28, 2009 - 04:17:00 PM

State budget cuts will force Berkeley Unified School District to cut more than $1 million from its adult education program. 

February's state budget compromise slashed a significant percentage of the program's categorical funding. The cuts will reduce adult education funds by 15 percent this year and by 20 percent in the 2009-2010 academic year, threatening services offered to 2,000 senior, at-risk youth and disabled students who attend Berkeley Adult School to learn a trade or complete their high school education.  

“These are heavy cuts,” District Superintendent Bill Huyett said Friday. “Adult education was one of the losers in the new budget—20 percent is a large cut. You can’t just trim around the edges with that kind of a cut. You have to make significant reductions to services.” 

In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the Berkeley Board of Education allowed the district to dip into the adult education program’s reserves to help offset the nearly $750,000 shortage it faces this year.  

The district will take $718,827 from the reserve funds. 

Berkeley Adult School Principal Margaret Kirkpatrick said the school has about $900,000 stored away from last year’s budget that is being used to preserve programs and teaching positions this year. 

“Rather than close classes and fire people, we are spending money from our reserves to carry on the services until the end of the year,” she said. “Some schools had to make drastic changes in February. We are one of the lucky schools. The cuts are a huge concern for the adult school, but we are lucky that the board supports adult education. We are looking to be much more creative next year to save money.” 

Huyett said his Budget Advisory Committee will meet this week to find ways to tackle the $1 million deficit the adult school faces next year. 

“We don’t know what the reductions are going to be in,” Huyett said Friday. “My staff is still weighing in on that.” 

Huyett said that besides taking $8 million from the school district over the next two years, the state budget cuts affect Tier III programs in the district, which include adult education, school improvement and deferred maintenance. 

“There is nothing you can cut this year from the adult school,” he said. “They are spending their reserves, so we won’t see any effects on their program this year. Next year, however, they will have to cut programs. We are working on a plan to hold on to the core programs.” 

Superintendent Huyett said school districts may opt to cut funding for Tier III programs entirely in order to transfer dollars to the general fund. 

“And some districts are doing that right now,” he said. “They no longer have adult education programs.” 

Principal Kirkpatrick said the school is prioritizing to save four programs for next year: English as a second language, which makes up the largest group of students; vocational training, such as nursing and pharmacy; high school diploma courses; and continuing services for adults. 

Established in 1891, the Berkeley Adult School offers free or subsidized classes at its San Pablo Avenue campus and at various other locations around the East Bay. The school graduates between 80 and 100 students with a high school diploma each year. 

The school is known for collaborating with the nonprofit Bread Project, which trains students to be self-sufficient and find competitive jobs in the culinary industry. Since 2001, the Bread Project has trained 621 individuals, some of whom previously had trouble finding employment because of homelessness, lack of prior work experience, limited English fluency or criminal records. 

“I am astonished that the state is doing something like this at a time when people need more resources to get a job in a challenging economy,” Kirkpatrick said. “We are anticipating many more calls about our services in the next few months, but I don’t know if we will have the resources to support more students.”