For the last several years the Mountain View-Los Altos and Mountain View Whisman school districts have collaborated to offer a free English as a Second Language (ESL) class at Castro Elementary School for local parents. Most of the parents drop their kids off at Castro, then spend the morning learning English vocabulary and grammar, which in turn helps them contribute to their children's education.
But due to steep budget cuts, the class may be terminated at the end of the school year.
Until now the elementary school district provided the classroom rent-free five days a week for three hours, and MVLA's Adult School contributed financially to a Castro preschool program, where many of the students leave their children. But in the current fiscal climate, the Adult School cannot provide more funding, school officials said. And elementary school district administrators say that they cannot offer the classroom space for free anymore.
Because of these setbacks — and since the Adult School can't afford the $15 an hour for the class — teacher Kit Miller said the high school district will have to end the ESL course. Miller started a petition to keep the class which now has 111 teacher and parent signatures.
"We see this as a bi-district project," Miller said. "We can't keep paying for it."
The Adult School is already cutting back teachers and programs as it faces $1.3 million in budget cuts through June 2010. In its current budget proposal, the Adult School plans to cut over 40 percent from ESL programs, according to director Laura Stefanski.
Since the Adult School withdrew funding, the rules dictate that the elementary school district must begin charging the class as an outside group, according to chief financial officer Craig Goldman.
"We understand there have been significant cuts to the Adult School," Goldman said. "We see a need to comply with the law. Otherwise what would stop any other group from expecting the space for free?"
Miller said many of the petition signers were planning to attend the elementary school district's board of trustees meeting on Thursday, April 23 to speak about the importance of the class. She said the district should continue providing the classroom because the course helps so many district families.
"Our Castro School class is part of our key mission to reach immigrants who are poor," Miller said. "Mountain View is benefiting from having these parents becoming involved."
Maura Garbuza, a student in the class who has two daughters at Castro, signed the petition, and said the course has helped her become conversational in English. She can now help her daughter with her homework.
"I want to learn. It is important," Garbuza said. "I want to communicate with people when I go to the doctor with my kids."
The Adult School campus, across town on Moffett Boulevard, also offers English classes, but Miller said none of them are specifically for parents. And it is hard for many of the parents, who don't have cars, to get to these classes.
Rosa, another student in the class who did not want her last name used, said she does not have time to commute by bus to Moffett Boulevard every day. She drops her three children off at Castro in the morning, and needs to be back by 11:15 a.m. to pick the youngest up from preschool.
"It's too far for me since I have to walk or take the bus," she said.
Miller said Rosa is not alone, and many parents would stop their English education altogether if the class were cancelled.
"If I don't stand up for this class who will," Miller said.
The high school district's board of trustees will discuss the cuts during their meeting on April 27, and make a final decision on May 11.
Proposed cuts to Adult School programs
High school district trustees will meet Monday to begin cutting $1.3 million from the Adult School in the 2009-10 academic year. A final decision will be made May 11. Below are some Adult School programs facing the biggest cuts:
• Adults with disabilities: Instructional hours will be reduced 45 percent, including elimination of classes at two of three sites.
• ESL and citizenship: Instructional hours will be reduced 44 percent, resulting in fewer classes.
• Vocational program: All classes that do not lead to certification for employment will be eliminated, a total of more than 800 instructional hours.
• Older adults: All classes will become fee-based and self-supporting by July 1. Programs providing outreach to convalescent homes in the area may be dropped by June 30.
• High School Diploma and GED: Adult high school diploma program will be reduced in size "with a stronger emphasis on adults working toward their GED certificate," according to director Laura Stefanski. The Adult School will continue to offer instructional services to concurrently enrolled students from the comprehensive high school sites, but take fewer referrals due to reduced program staffing.
• Grants: Reduced funding expected for the Even Start Family Literacy Grant, CAL-SAFE Grant for young teen parents and CalWORKs Grant for adults on public assistance.
• Fee-based classes: Expected to stay intact if they meet minimum enrollment requirements and are self-supporting.