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Sweetwater Budget Woes To Cut Into Already Ailing Adult Education Programs

Julieta Rodriguez holds a sign that reads,

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: Julieta Rodriguez holds a sign that reads, "Parent Ed for our Future," Nov. 7, 2018.

Parents rallied outside the Sweetwater Union High School District offices this week, chanting, “Save our teachers.” But they weren’t talking about their children’s teachers; they were talking about their own.

Budget cuts in the district could mean more than 30 teacher layoffs across Sweetwater’s adult schools in San Ysidro, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and National City.

The district says state funding for these programs has shifted in recent years, relying on general funds the district can no longer spare. But adult school students and teachers say the classes are necessary for their community to thrive. They help adults learn English, study for the U.S. citizenship exam, get jobs and set their children on the right path.

“We want them to hear our voices, that we care about our education and we want them to continue with these classes,” said Irene Valenzuela, who is taking a parenting class that helps her prepare her young children for kindergarten. “Start cutting at the top level, where they made the mistakes.”

Photo by Megan Burks

Cynthia Jocobo holds a sign that reads, "Save Parent Ed," Nov. 7, 2018.

At the start of the school year, the district discovered a nearly $30 million shortfall in its current budget. Now the district is identifying cuts to right its course mid-year — a rare occurrence since schools craft and adjust their budgets December through May for the following year.

Pending final approval, Sweetwater would close all of its parenting classes Dec. 24. It would also have to close several English-language, citizenship, GED and career-technical classes. It’s unclear whether students would be put out or consolidated under the remaining teachers.

“We’re trying to minimize the impact to (grades) 7-12 but we know that unfortunately, this has an impact elsewhere,” said Sweetwater spokesman Manny Rubio.

Sweetwater had been backfilling its adult program budgets with its general fund. In 2016, the state began offering block grant funding for adult education, instead of per-pupil funding like in K-12. The following year, the district’s adult schools cut 10 percent of its classes.

Rubio said, with rising pension and special education costs, the district can no longer afford to supplement the adult schools’ budget. Already, each school and department in the district has been returning 10 to 20 percent of its budget to the general fund, he said.

To fill this year’s gap, the district is considering an early retirement incentive program. Its unions have tentatively agreed to take two furlough days outside of instructional time. Employees recently received a 3.75 percent raise.

Voters approved a $403 million bond for the district on Tuesday. However, it will not help avert cuts. Bonds can only be used for capital projects.

Video by Roland Lizarondo

The Sweetwater Union High School District is expected to close several classes that help South Bay residents learn English, become citizens and get jobs.

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