Bruce Maiman is a former radio show host who lives in Rocklin. Reach him at brucemaiman@gmail.com.

Viewpoints: Why would district end successful program?

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 9, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 9A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 9, 2013 - 8:03 am

Despite its recent baggage, there's actually something positive happening in the Twin Rivers School District.

Adult education classes in a broad range of technical and health fields are graduating nearly 70 percent of their students and placing 80 percent to 90 percent of them in livable wage jobs.

And it might disappear.

A faction of district administrators seems determined to exterminate this program. Why?

"Because the students are ex-felons," Linda Fowler, a board trustee and program supporter, tells me.

Indeed, many are. Others are immigrants – Eastern Europeans, mostly. Those who need it get English language learning with their vocational training.

"How can you have an upscale district and have these 'terrible' people?" Fowler quips.

"Twin Rivers, upscale?" I ask.

"Maybe it's just that Mr. Williams is upscale in his own mind and doesn't want to be associated with this 'element,' " Fowler replies.

She means Joe Williams, the former Foothill High principal and interim district superintendent. "He's able to control the board agenda and structure it in a way favorable to his desires," says Jacob Walker, chair of the adult school's career programs.

"It's clearly a matter of prejudice and discrimination," Walker says.

Naturally, neither Williams nor his bloc of board members would ever admit that. They say the governor's wonky new K-12 funding formula will slash millions from adult education, but that proposal, opposed by the Legislative Analyst's Office, is tanking in both Assembly and Senate budget subcommittees.

At board meetings, Williams, who didn't return my call, publicly supports adult ed. Behind the scenes, something else seems afoot.

Financially strapped, adult ed students pay for classes with Pell Grants – approximately $3,000. These federal dollars require a local administrative body for their distribution. In December, Williams halted that funding and put the adult school director on paid administrative leave, claiming improprieties by students in the green technology program, the adult school's smallest and least successful course.

"They said the investigation would only last two weeks," says Ward Allen, the school's truck-driving instructor. "Four months later, investigators haven't talked to a single person in the district, and the investigation is still ongoing while a person on administrative leave continues to get paid."

And the superintendent is concerned about fiscal improprieties?

"The district isn't liable for that money," Fowler says. "That student is," meaning appropriate federal authorities must mitigate and exact payment from the student.

"The district hasn't even contacted the feds," Allen says. "Why? Because they know there's nothing there."

Even if the green program, which has four students, is problematic, why deny Pell money to the other 850 students enrolling in far more successful programs that have no improprieties?

"They want us gone," Allen says. "No Pell Grants, no students. No students, adult ed dies on the vine, and instead of being blamed for closing the program, they can just say funding dried up."

Indeed, adult ed makes a profit for the district. Allen's trucking class alone generated a $200,000 profit last year, almost enough to cover Williams' $220,000 salary – plus an $800-a-month gas allowance. That's over 30 grand more than the superintendent in my district makes in "upscale" Rocklin.

Allen's students are passionate and grateful. In a recent visit with about 60 of them, a common theme emerged: "If I didn't have this program, I'd be selling dope in West Oakland," says 32-year-old Waymon Greer. "I want to make a change in my life. This program gives me that chance." He thanked George Sample across the crowded room for pushing him to attend.

At 37, Sample graduated from the program six months ago after doing 12 years in state prison. It changed his life.

"I started off making 13 cents a mile," he tells the class. "Now, I'm not just working for a trucking company, I bought my truck, I'm about to buy my second one, and I own 14 properties, you guys.

"Ward Allen, the adult school, I thank 'em all. I stand here right now on my way to personal wealth. I'm a taxpayer." He's proud and inspiring.

Frustrated, the school applied for an adult charter, to be voted on at tonight's board meeting, but Williams already announced his opposition. He'll likely prevail. Why would district members who want to eliminate a program oppose its attempt to leave the district through charter status? Because the teachers union, which supports Williams, hates charter schools?

Meanwhile, Williams' aide-de-camp and embattled board President Cortez Quinn faces new scrutiny by the board tonight over a Fair Political Practices Commission fine for taking a loan and gift from a district employee.

We complain about recidivism, convulse over realignment, and decry immigrants leeching off the system. Here's a program rectifying all three concerns in one small corner of California and district leaders are trying to undermine it.

Local control of education dollars is fine, but not in the hands of pettifogging bureaucrats myopically and pathetically obsessed with their own civic power.

Bruce Maiman is a former radio host who lives in Rocklin. Reach him at brucemaiman@gmail.com

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