Saturday, February 14, 2009

Layoffs imperil Metro adult education classes

Seven victims blame planning, pools By Jaime Sarrio • THE TENNESSEAN • February 14, 2009 Seven adult education employees were laid off Thursday because the department wasn't earning enough revenue from class enrollment to keep itself afloat. But the ousted employees say it was Metro schools' poor planning and three district-run swimming pools that ultimately put the department under. The employees, part of the Community Education Alliance, worked in high schools to coordinate evening classes like pottery and photography for adults. Both Metro's central government and the school district funded the group, with the rest of the budget from course enrollment revenue. District officials who oversee the alliance said layoffs were necessary because the department has a $254,400 deficit and cannot afford to continue. The future of adult classes in Metro remains uncertain. Officials blame the economy for the low enrollment, but longtime alliance coordinators say it was the district's decision to put three costly swimming pools under alliance control that bankrupted the program. "I think that MNPS administration should be forced to come up with the funds to correct the deficit their mismanagement caused," said Carl Myers, who was laid off after working as a program coordinator since 1991. "It is not fair to the citizens of Nashville to use funds the Metro Council intended for the salaries of seven Community Education Alliance employees to pay off a deficit caused by mismanagement of the aquatics." In 2006, Metro Parks turned over control of pools at Whites Creek, Pearl Cohn and Glencliff high schools. The pools were in poor condition, school officials said, and had to be resurfaced so they would not keep losing thousands of gallons of water a week. Coordinators surprised Metro schools spent $100,000 and countless hours of manpower to repair the pools and eventually opened the Glencliff pool to the public. The swimming program then became the responsibility of the alliance, but the department got no extra money for pool maintenance. "Everyone thought the pool would be able to sustain itself," district spokes woman Olivia Brown said. Brown said the program was placed under the alliance because it was a natural fit with other adult education courses. But this year, the department needed $338,000 in revenue to break even. So far, it's earned $80,000, Brown said. Metro schools this year put in $215,000, budget documents show, while the city contributed $597,100 from general funds. Coordinators thought their jobs would be safe. "I was totally caught by surprise," said James Polk, community education coordinator, who was let go after 30 years. "We always knew we needed more people in classes and we need to have income to pay our instructors. I think the expectation of how much we must raise and what that meant was not clear." Metro schools also laid off four aquatics department employees and will close the Glencliff pool at the end of the month. Brown said the district would seek community partners to provide funding to reopen them next year. The next round of adult education classes begins Tuesday, continuing as scheduled with other departments running it, she said. After this semester, the district will have to find other ways to run the program. Feb. 27 is the final day for the alliance employees.

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