South Whidbey School Board hears pitch for adult ed classes

LANGLEY — Life-long learning may come to South Whidbey this year.

A group of South End residents is planning to launch a community education program, using local schools as a place to hold classes.

The idea is still in the early discussion phase, and the South Whidbey School Board got a briefing on the potential benefits of the program by organizer Duncan Ferguson at its recent board meeting.

The plan is to use the school district’s facilities to house continued education classes for adults.

“There was a lot of good, quality education going on all around us, but it appeared to happen in silos,” Ferguson told the school board. “The consensus was that if the school district could take it under its wing, that would be a good thing.”

“It’s a credible place to lodge such an educational endeavor,” he added.

Ideally, the program would be financially independent from the school district and could run itself.

District officials said the proposed program seems worthy, but would need to pay its own way.

“Essentially it pays rent,” said District Superintendent Jo Moccia. “Should it not work out, it can be discontinued.”

Moccia also said that just because the district won’t create the adult learning system on its own doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. District revenues have declined with its student population, and state and federal funding have fallen off, she said, and the money just isn’t there.

“I’ve seen it work very effectively,” Moccia said. “As much as we would want to do it, we can’t.”

Ferguson presented a financial plan for the program to the board, and outlined the potential sources of revenue and expenses for the next three academic years, until 2015.

An initial cost of $100 per course, which would last five weeks, was estimated to raise $30,000.

Instructors would be paid $500 per course, a part-time coordinator would have a $15,000 salary and a part-time director would get a $30,000 salary.

That’s the outline for the first year, with graduated increases for 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 for the coordinator and overall instructor salaries.

The large amount of money had some board members concerned until one of their own cleared the air.

“Just to be clear, what you’re not asking the district for is money,” said Board Member Fred O’Neal.

The short answer: no.

Ferguson presented a plan that estimated thousands of dollars could be generated from fees and grants, which the district would handle until a nonprofit organization could be established to run the community education program.

The total revenue is projected at $90,000 against an estimated $77,975 in expenses for salaries, administration, marketing and operations. Rent was not factored into its operations budget.

To help cover the initial costs, Ferguson said the group would seek a two-year grant from either a foundation, the state or federal sources. No money has been raised yet for the endeavor.

“We would do the fundraising, both the grant proposal and some regional fundraising,” Ferguson said.

“That would help with the cost for a salary for a staff person to keep the program going.”

Liability was a concern for the board. Board Member Damian Greene asked about what would happen if someone in one of these classes was injured while on school property.

Dan Poolman, the school district’s business and operations director, had earlier shared similar worries about the district’s risks in housing the program.

“My belief is it would be like what we do with our programs,” Poolman said. “If it is self-sufficient, that’s great; if it isn’t, it becomes our liability.”

Ferguson said the group has five goals. The first was enrichment and development in skills in the arts, crafts and hobbies.

Second, community education would provide engagement in learning and conversation in substantial issues and subjects.

Third, the underemployed and unemployed could get career-building skills. The courses could include classes on money management, computers, writing and other important topics.

The final goal is the continued education system would allow other organizations, such as Nichols Brothers Boat Builders and Whidbey Telecom, to offer education that centers on their interests and needs.

No matter how, or if, the group finds funding, the school board stressed it can’t support the program financially as it deals with a shrinking school budget.

Organizers of the program expect to further refine its plans and return to a future board meeting for an update.

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