The axe fell on the Cowichan Adult Learning Centre April 28 as school trustees gave the final tweaks to an $81.8 million budget for 2016/17.
The Cowichan Valley Board of Education had originally planned to look at ways of curtailing the costs of the program while keeping it open, but discovered at a committee meeting on April 26 that the cuts were too deep to keep it alive. The closure will save about $250,000.
Trustee Cathy Schmidt, who had originally pushed for the additional discussion on adult ed, proposed the closure.
“It comes with a heavy heart that I do this, but I’d like to make a motion to that we phase out Adult Education by January 2017,” she said.
Adult education students will be funnelled towards Vancouver Island University.
District secretary-treasurer Jason Sandquist said he had anticipated the idea such a closure might come up, and had come to the meeting with two different budget bylaw amounts prepared.
Although, according to schools superintendent Rod Allen, the district had no way of knowing how many students might be involved when such a changeover takes place, he expected VIU to be able to handle any influx of students.
Elizabeth Croft was one of several trustees concerned about students caught in the crunch.
“If we have a ‘drop dead date’ of mid-January, are there people who may need to still be in the system? Could we help them and still stay in budget?” she asked.
Allen replied that the handful of students who might not be able to complete by that date will have to be supported somehow, but explained to Croft that VIU would be well-equipped to deal with any incoming students because they would be revenue generators, either by paying themselves for courses or by taking advantage of available subsidies.
Trustee Candace Spilsbury said she was supporting the motion because, firstly, keeping on under curtailed conditions would place the remaining two teachers in “an impossible situation” and, secondly, “once we decrease the number of teachers, then we’re decreasing the attractiveness of the program to students. I’m reluctantly, like other trustees, looking at this realistically, not emotionally.”
Croft said she was “not in favour of maintaining an unsustainable program,” but asked, “do we have assurances that students aren’t going to fall through the cracks?”
Allen said the district can’t be certain but “VIU has the ability to expand their program and we don’t. It’s far more likely to succeed in the long term.”
He was also able to reassure the several trustees who voiced concern for students who couldn’t pay to attend VIU that the university had access to subsidy programs and knows how to help students get financial help if they need it.
Schmidt closed the debate by saying, “It’s no secret I’ve been a big supporter of the adult ed program; I fought for it ever since I was elected. However, when I found that two teachers would have to teach 560 courses and that two [simultaneous] programs are struggling, I’m hoping with this pullback that VIU will become more viable and be able to move the adult sector forward. The two programs were obviously pulling from each other. One stable, strong program to serve the adults in our community is what we need.”