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Program for adults with disabilities getting axed

The Learning Center's adult school course to close in June
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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THE LEARNING CENTER

 

The LearningCenter (not to be confused with Placer Learning Center of Granite Bay) is a classroom for adults with learning disabilities, leased from the county by PlacerSchool for Adults as the home of Training for Developmentally Delayed Adults. The course allows students to enroll according to their own hours of availability and improve their academic skills, daily living skills and community awareness.

 

Placer School for Adults will lose its only program for developmentally disabled students in June.

The Placer Union High School District Board of Trustees accepted a recommendation from Superintendent Dave Horsey this week to cut Training for Developmentally Delayed Adults from the school’s curriculum, effective June 30, as a way to cut costs. The loss of that program will end the district’s lease on The Learning Center, a classroom in Placer County’s DeWitt Center in North Auburn. The decision comes as a blow to supporters of the course who wonder if the savings are necessary.

Instructor Terry Alexander, who leads the class every Monday through Thursday to help adults with developmental disabilities to improve their academic and daily living skills, has the option to retire or be laid off when the program closes. She said Horsey informed her of his recommendation one week prior to Tuesday’s meeting, and she was dismayed by the idea of the district losing its only remaining program for her students.

“The district laid off over 20 teachers in the last four years, and all those teachers were part of year-round programs for older adults, handicapped adults, seniors, so we’re basically the last program that the adult school in the high school district was funding,” she said. “I’m still in shock about this whole thing, and what’s happening here. We’re like a family, and our students come here because they feel comfortable here, and they’re loyal to this program, and it just seems like the district obviously is not in a bad place financially, they’re doing well … I wasn’t ready to retire.”

Alexander said the news was an unwelcome surprise, especially on the heels of the district’s latest positive financial profile from a New York credit ratings firm.

Superintendent Dave Horsey, however, said a lot of research went into the recommendation and revealed several reasons for it – namely saving $30,000 per year on the lease, and slightly less than that on Alexander’s salary, at the expense of a program that serves 36 students. The school’s shifting focus from adult care activities to high school diploma requirements was another factor.

“We’re in good shape because we make strong financial and curricular decisions, so one of the things here is that we have a course of study that, for providing 112 hours a month of instruction and the adults only taking advantage of, on an average, 12 hours a month, is that where we want to focus our money? Or do we want to put it into stronger programs for career and college readiness and high school diplomas and English language learners?” he said. “There’s a high demand for that, and we could offer more courses for that by spreading the money.”

Horsey added that the school is still in deficit spending, although end-of-year revenue sources allow the district to break even.

Board Clerk Maureen Ward said the school lost its senior care and physical therapy activity programs for similar reasons, and the root of the district’s funding problems runs deeper than any one program.

“It’s primarily state funding. They’re saying it has to be career or technical education-oriented,” she said. “You either cut programs or you increase class sizes … We’ve just been very fiscally conservative through some really hard times that have been pretty devastating to education. Prop. 30 didn’t solve our funding problems. It has eased them until it’s over, but we need a new form of funding for education in the state of California.”

Alexander said The Learning Center had been run by the school since 1978 and accommodated a very large program until four years ago, when the bulk of the cuts began and forced some students to find other options.

“The last conversation I had with the superintendent was that things were good, like they weren’t going to be a deficit like they were if Prop 30 hadn’t passed. But the problem with our program is, we’re not funded through average daily attendance anymore … Before Schwarzenegger left office, he cut the funding mechanism for adult ed for special programs, so basically we weren’t able to generate money for the district anymore,” she said. “Four years ago they cut our work year from 51 weeks down to 40 weeks, and that was what caused a lot of havoc, because the students were then forced to find programming when we weren’t in session, which averages out to one week a month.”

Joel Seisa, a care provider for four students of the program with his wife, Elda, is now concerned about where their clients will go after The Learning Center closes.

“It will really have a big impact on our adult clients, because it’s a day program that we’ve relied on all these years,” he said.

The mother of another student, Bev Hill, said her 38-year-old daughter also goes to an art class two days a week, but it’s not a full-time solution and, unlike The Learning Center, does not teach her to be more independent. While some parents will be able to take their children to programs like PRIDE Industries or others in Lincoln or Roseville, she said, that’s not an option for everyone. She hadn’t even decided how she would break the news to her daughter.

“(I feel) sad, angry, hurt that people with disabilities already have hard lives. Life is not easy for them, and then to be thrown into the unknown without any planning or prep is very difficult for them and for parents and care providers,” Hill said. “The unknown hasn’t been told yet to my daughter.”

Horsey said letters are in the mail for the adult students and their caregivers with a list of the next four board meeting dates.