Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Adult Ed funding crisis prompts closure of Chesterton ALC

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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 been cut.

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 said.

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 education.

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.


Posted 5/25/2010




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