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Budget Proposal Cuts Adult and Community Education Staff in Half

Supervisor John Cook, Del. Ken Plum against reducing school department that serves 40,000 residents

While the Fairfax County Public Schools' touts faculty expansion and teacher compensation, it leaves out its plan to cut the staff of the county's adult and community education program, then forcing them to reapply for half as many positions.

Last week, Adult and Community Education (ACE) staff received notice that 50 percent of their jobs will be eliminated. Only a hint of reorganization is mentioned in the proposed budget, which is open to resident comment in a public hearing Monday night. A reorganization chart is expected to be released Thursday, several employees of the department told Patch.

FCPS Superintendent Jack Dale presented the proposed budget to the school board Jan. 12.

"In an effort to provide the most valuable instructional model and manage the increasing costs of providing adult and community education courses, the ACE program is currently reviewing operations. The impact of this review will be included in the FY 2013 Approved Budget," the proposed budget says.

FCPS spokeswoman Mary Shaw said the program restructuring is necessary to make ACE "a self-supporting program going forward."

"The restructuring provides opportunities for better alignment with the school division’s mission of career and workforce readiness while creating operational efficiencies," she said in an email to Patch late Monday afternoon.

Adult and Community Education (ACE) is tasked with teaching the county’s adult English for Speakers of Other Languages program (ESOL), among other vocational and technical programs like drivers' education, apprenticeships, workplace training and certificate courses.

According to school documents, ACE has about 58 employees. The school system received $400,000 from the county to support the program last year, but much of its $10.8 million budget is funded by county agencies, local businesses and individual student tuition, according to the documents.

The proposed fiscal year 2013 budget for the department remains the same as last year’s amount of $10.8 million.

According to several employees, members of ACE staff were told each of them would have to reapply for the remaining jobs.

It's not clear how much would be saved as a result. Shaw said it would likeley depend largely on enrollment.

Shaw said the new positions will be advertised and competitively filled in May 2012.

In an effort to be more "fiscally responsible," Shaw said, FCPS is also re-evaluating its course offerings. It's not clear if that will result in fewer course openings for residents.

Del. Ken Plum (D-36th District), who launched the ACE program in Fairfax County, said both families and businesses would suffer from such a cut. Plum said though about 52 percent of the county's budget goes toward the FCPS operating fund each year, a majority of county residents don’t have children in school.

“The school facilities are used by taxpayers who don’t have kids in schools,” he said. “That in itself is a compelling argument for the importance of ACE. Public schools should never become a place just for children, because then you lose support from all the community.”

“In addition, ACE provides opportunities for those whom traditional education doesn’t work ... These kinds of courses are not available at Northern Virginia Community College,” he continued. “The business community would lose training opportunities for potential employees and consequently reduce the qualified workforce for available jobs.

, who served on the ACE board for three years, called the department's services "vital" and has requested the matter be put on the agenda for the Feb. 25 joint retreat between the Board of Supervisors and school board. He’s hopeful they can find a solution.

“The school board should be working with the Board of Supervisors to determine how we can use outside agencies and county human service agencies to keep these opportunities in place,” Cook said.  “It’s important that our education system in Fairfax County isn’t just focused on the college-bound. We need to provide opportunities for all our students.”

When the Fairfax County School Board named its Springfield center the Plum Center for Lifelong Learning in 2009, they called Plum, "a skilled, effective, and highly respected director of Adult and Community Education," who "developed Fairfax County’s adult education program from a small initiative to a world-class program with unparalleled breadth and depth."

According to the school board’s unanimously passed resolution, "this center will serve as a classroom campus for adult and community education in order to meet the essential lifelong learning needs of the community."  

That now remains to be seen.

“I know ACE has been losing money for some time, but it would be short-sighted to reduce or eliminate it in Fairfax County,” Plum said.

This article has been updated to include a response from Fairfax County Public Schools.

Erica R. Hendry, editor of Vienna Patch, contributed to this story.

Dorothy Hassan January 31, 2012 at 03:18 PM
As an ACE instructor, I see the wide range of adult students my particular field (writing) serves -- retirees, and professionals of all ages. In addition, I walk past classrooms full of those learning English which, I would think, is a prerequisite for good citizenship. Fairfax County has one of the most diverse and envied programs in the area, perhaps on the entire East Coast. What a shame to gut it for what amounts to a very small savings. The instructors are not well paid, are not reimbursed for the preparation work some subjects demand, and most of us do it only because we love teaching. Is this one of those "feel good" agendas? Slashing ACE is certainly not going to save our budget.
stephen altman January 31, 2012 at 08:20 PM
This proposal, if it carries, constitutes a self-inflicted wound to Fairfax County. Why do you live here, if not for the quality of life? Here's a program that enriches the lives of county residents, and which, in turn, enriches the county's store of knowledgeable and contributing citizens, and all virtually for pennies. Instructors are willing to make the investment in their fellow citizens; they teach for about $20 per classroom session. Participants don't get to attend for free; they pay about $25 per classroom session. All the people involved in the ACE programs--from administrators to course managers to people working late to keep the buildings open--are contributing at small cost to the county to making this a better place to live. If there's no easily measurable value to these programs, neither is there an easily measurable value to having parks or rec centers. Cut the things that make living in the county worthwhile and we'll end up talking about nothing but the traffic and the cost of living, and then no one will want to stay, and no one will want to come.
Sharon Barrus January 31, 2012 at 11:00 PM
I agree with Anna Gibson 100%. This is a disgrace. I have lived in Fairfax County all my life. I do not have children yet I pay taxes to the county so that other people's children can go to school, so that other adults and receive education so that I can receive education. Where do I go for education once ACE is closed down? Guess I'll have to move out of the county. Obviously my taxes aren't providing me with any services. As Anna Gibson said "If you want to cut, look at recreation, not at our schools and libraries."
Sarah Sutherland February 01, 2012 at 03:54 PM
The New York Fed recently published the first research studying the impact of the recession on education finances. There are some interesting results shown in a post on the Fed's blog, "Liberty Street Economics".
Wm Babbington February 04, 2012 at 07:38 PM
I have taken ACE courses for years and they have improved my career skills resulting in a higher income which has benefited the state and county in higher tax payment. ACE is one of the great programs available to Fairfax County citizens. Please note the names of those school board members who vote for this reduction and then vote for their reduction at the next election.

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