Sunday, October 21 , 2018, 6:23 am | Fair 59º

 
 
 
 

SBCC Adult-Ed Advocates Confront Board Members About Program Cuts

The meeting gets contentious at times as members of a new group called SBCC ACES pose pointed questions of decision-makers

Supporters of adult-education classes at SBCC met Tuesday morning to discuss program cuts to their department, and to pose some important questions to decision-makers.

The prickly relationship between adult-ed students and school administrators and board members was on display during a meeting that turned unruly several times. The meeting was hosted by a new group called SBCC ACES, or Associated Continuing Education Students.

“Our purpose is to ensure that (noncredit) Continuing Education is treated and managed with the same sense of importance and fairness as (for-credit) SBCC,” the group’s Web site says, and Tuesday marked its third meeting.

SBCC received $2.6 million less in state money than it was owed last year, and the same is expected this year, according to the group. Summer classes have been reduced from 175 last summer to just 16 this summer, which resulted in $348,000 in savings for the school. Representatives from the group asked a series of pointed questions of two members of the board of trustees who stopped by — President Joe Dobbs and Vice President Sally Green.

The group maintains that the school has enough money to maintain the program, and that just because cutbacks are needed doesn’t mean classes should be up for grabs, ACES member Marsha Croninger said.

“Why cut classes when you’re an educational institution?” she asked, adding that the adult-ed program has borne an unfair burden of the cuts. “Other schools [spread the cuts] proportionately. That sense of sharing the pain is not here.”

Currently, 605 adult-ed classes are lined up for this fall, 524 of which are free, and the 81 remaining are fee-based.

In a packed classroom at the Wake Center, several speakers talked about a philosophical “shift” they feel has taken over in the past few years, and their comments seemed to garner unanimous agreement.

Dobbs and Green fielded a range of questions, including why board members hadn’t requested more information about the school’s cash flow.

Dobbs said the budget wasn’t a secret but a public document, and he tried to assuage audience members.

“We love this group,” said Dobbs, who has served on the board since 1971. “It’s not that we’re trying to do mean things. It’s about the money.”

Despite his self-proclaimed empathy for adult ed and its students, Dobbs was on the defensive during the meeting — even combative during several comments.

One point of contention was that recordings of board meetings are not being made public. When asked about it by ACES members, Dobbs said the minutes were drafted by watching the tapes, which are then discarded. In other words, the tapes aren’t public record but the minutes are. One speaker challenged that claim, saying that multiple and lengthy comments from ACES members had been left out of the minutes altogether.

After promising to look into it, Dobbs seemed not to grasp the importance of accurate public record, asking the speakers, “What do you want that tape for? To hear yourselves talk?”

Green said the board had made every effort to make the cuts as equitable as possible.

“There is no plan to get rid of anything at the Wake Center,” she said.

The state has told school officials not to expect reimbursement during August, September and October, and “we’ve been told by the state that we have to set money aside” to cover ongoing costs, she said, adding that there’s a possibility the state budget won’t be signed until January, and the administration was just trying to be prudent. “You elected us to keep the school solvent.”

The feelings of adult-ed students, many of them seniors, may have been summed up best by speaker Mary Whalen. With SBCC so active recruiting students from across the state, country and world, Whalen said she feels locals are being left out of the things the school has to offer.

“It’s not a community college anymore,” she told Dobbs and Green. “Continuing ed is a very important part of many people’s lives, and our needs should not be considered frivolous.”

She admonished the trustees to pay attention — and not necessarily to school administration. “Listen to the people who elected you,” she said, eliciting applause from the audience.

The next meeting of the board of trustees will be June 24, and ACES will hold its next meeting July 20.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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