Friday, December 22, 2006
Community Ed looks for funds
Not a seat could be found at the December 12 public hearing with the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) on the Concord-Carlisle Adult and Community Education (CCACE) program. Until 2005, the RSC had always helped to financially support CCACE. It has also allowed the high school classrooms to be used for courses. Between 2000 and 2004, CCACE funding, a line item of the Regional School District (RSC) budget, rose from roughly $50,000 to $61,900. But the economic climate and state aid to towns was so devastatingly bad in 2005 that CCACE funding was cut to only two dollars. The funding has not been reinstated. For 45 minutes, community members let the RSC know that CCACE was a vital part of the community and one that could not go unfunded indefinitely.
Director of CCACE, Courtland Booth, said more than 350 part-time educators offered courses over a wide range of topics. CCACE ran over 600 non-credit educational programs last year, its 53rd year in existance. More than 4,100 people were enrolled in classes, one third of these were K-12 students. CCACE programs include classes in driver education, SAT prep, business, public speaking, CPR, health, fitness, Chinese, Italian, entry-level computer courses, web development, crafts, gardening, nature, culinary arts and parenting and child development. CCACE has many community partners and works with the Center for Parents and Teachers and the Alliance for Teen Safety. Community Chest helps with outreach and financial aid. Booth added, "CCACE supports citizen involvement and intergenerational learning."
Jim Saltonstall, chair of the CCACE Advisory Committee, talked about the current situation. "Let me be clear about the magnitude of the problem. We are at a point where the CCACE programs are 95% self-funded; our shortfall amounts to less than $50,000. This amounts to less than one quarter of one percent of the towns' budgets, a seemingly small number. On the other hand, for CCACE, $50,000 is the approximate cost of half of the administrative support for CCACE programs."
Saltonstall said, "CCACE has been testing ways to reduce staff. We have been expanding web-based tools. We supported Alliance for Teenage Safety and, until last year, we gave it a home." CCACE has been analyzing its courses. Those that take more effort to organize or have higher program costs have been dropped. CCACE will be moving away from unfunded activities such as emergency planning with the Fire Department. He said, "Building the [Teenage] Alliance was very time-consuming." The Alliance for Teen Safety is a community resource which promotes the health and well-being of young people and their families.
Five percent of the CCACE budget is currently not funded. The fees for the courses pay for the instructors, but they do not cover all of the administration costs. There is much opposition to raising the fees for fear that fewer community members would be able to partake in the classes. Concord citizen Mary Clarke said, "You can't find more dedicated educators. It's not just Adult Education, it's Community Education We must nurture this. We keep [the price] of courses as low as we can so many people can attend This is important."
A group calling themselves ACORN, which stands for Action for Community Reform Now, has formed. Phebe Ham, a citizen of Concord, is the Chair of ACORN. Ham said, "Community Ed is for us. It takes place in our schools. We use the [school] buildings after 3 p.m. The more we can use the building, the better." She is a strong advocate for CCACE and felt the present level of funding from the RSC was not acceptable.
RSC member Peter Fischelis asked how other towns fund their community education programs and how did their fees compare? Saltonstall replied that a multi-faceted approach was needed for funding. In terms of comparing fees, Acton's fees were less and Newburyport's were more. "Acton aggregates all [community education] courses and recreation. It allocates [them] differently than here."
Later in the meeting, RSC member Michael Fitzgerald said, "We have to address the concerns of CCACE I have no intention of killing the program. The issue is finding the appropriate place for funding. We have to solicit input from other stakeholders. I want to broaden this discussion with the Selectmen of both towns in January."
RSC member Betsy Bilodeau added, "CCACE does provide a wonderful fabric for our community."
© 2006 The