The Chesterton Adult Learning Center, and 19 other satellite centers run by
the Portage Adult Education program, are set to close around June 15.
With no funding solution in place for the financially struggling program
after years of deficits, the Portage Township School Board unanimously
approved a recommendation Monday from Portage School Superintendent Michael
Berta to close all adult education satellite centers. Adult education will
continue at the Portage Adult High School, though evening programming has
The decision to close the learning centers stems from the funding crisis
that surfaced in late 2007, when the Portage school board voted to terminate
the school system’s role as the fiscal agent over the six-county program
unless a permanent and stable funding source could be found.
A variety of funding measures then emerged that kept the program afloat.
These included Porter County income tax revenues and grants provided by
agencies including the Porter County Community Foundation and the Discovery
Alliance. Even a bill was passed in the 2008 Indiana General Assembly that
formed a legislative study commission to study a funding remedy. But no new
funding source has been found.
The adult education program is a regional one, open to any Indiana student.
The Portage Schools has served as the program’s fiscal agent since the
beginning of the program more than 45 years ago. The program has received
about $1.5 million annually in federal and state grants, and the Portage
Schools has billed other schools systems to recover some of the costs. But
other schools are not mandated to pay and, as the program’s fiscal agent,
the Portage Schools have had to absorb any operating loss. That deficit has
been in the range of $200,000 to $300,000 a year, said adult education
director Frank Vernallis.
Vernallis attributed adult education’s funding woes to actions by the state.
Lawmakers have refused to increase state funding for adult education
programs for 11 years. Further, he said, Gov. Mitch Daniels slashed current
adult ed funding by $1 million. At the same time, the state this year is
cutting school operating funds, leaving schools struggling to fund their
regular K-12 programs.
“It’s becoming harder to continue to fund the (adult education) deficit,” he
The staff at the Adult Learning Centers, all of whom are considered
part-time, will finish the current school year and then “they will join the
ranks of the unemployed,” Vernallis said.
At the same time, the state is in the process of shifting its adult
education funds to the Indiana Workforce Development. At least for the time
being, the Portage schools will remain the fiscal agent for the remaining
adult education program at Portage Adult High School. However, Vernallis
said if the state funding cuts end up being as severe as projected, the
Portage Schools may seek to end its involvement altogether with adult
The adult high school, located in the former Garyton elementary school on
Central Avenue in Portage, will continue to be available to any Indiana
student. But the regular night programming will be discontinued. Instead,
two night classes a week will be offered at the Willowcreek Middle School
for those in the adult ed program.
The adult education learning centers, including the one in Chesterton housed
in the Westchester Public Library’s Service Center, have provided a variety
of programs, including GED courses, English as a second language, computer
skills and non-credit continuing education courses.