The realities of these mean and lean financial times are once again causing shockwaves of controversy for Santa Barbara City College and the hugely popular adult education courses it provides. Budget cuts, and the re-evaluation of spending that they require, have thrown a major monkey wrench into the long-standing relationship between City College and the four parent-child workshops — Starr King, Oaks, San Marcos, and Lou Grant — that have been an esteemed and affordable staple in the Santa Barbara preschool landscape for several decades. On one side, college administrators argue the potential changes are nothing more than a long-overdue clarification of the partnership between the co-op styled workshops and the college. On the other side, staff and alumni from the workshops fear the proposed changes have the potential to destroy the very essence of the program itself.
For more than a year now, the debate over the workshops and their fates has been quietly heating up behind closed doors. After nearly three decades at the helm of the Oaks Parent-Child Workshop, director/instructor Marilyn Statucki retired from her position before the start of last year. The vacancy created by her departure opened up a dialogue between the Oaks camp and City College as how to fill the void. The historical way to fill a vacancy was such that City College would provide the money for a tenured, full-time, benefits-included position to be occupied by an instructor with at least a master’s degree. The individual workshops — which are each run as distinct nonprofit entities — would then provide basically everything else for the program to operate. Since the first workshop was created in 1948, the collaboration has been a huge success, serving more than 15,000 families in that time and providing affordable childcare and instruction for roughly 240 parents each semester. Moreover, to hear parents tell it, it has been the long-term buy-in from the various directors/instructors — the vast majority of whom, like Statucki, have spent decades at their posts — that has helped facilitate this culture of success and enrichment.
Now, faced with an economic squeeze that has forced it to slash $10 million dollars from its budget and cut several course offerings in the past three years, City College is angling to redefine the director position for the Oaks program. Specifically, it wants to reduce the position to a part-time job, take away the benefits and potential for tenure status, pay the director an hourly wage based off the existing adult education pay scale, and drop the education prerequisite to a bachelor’s degree. According to City College President Andreea Serban, the revamping of the position is informed by policy coming from the State Chancellor’s office. “Over the years, regulations from the state have changed significantly,” explained Serban this week, “and as a result there have been things the college has paid for but actually shouldn’t have paid for and are not responsible for.”
Specifically, according to Serban, the issue with the parent-child workshops is that the directors/instructors end up doing tons of work beyond just the educational component of the program. The instructor/director oversees a hybrid system that includes both education of the parents as well as the preschool program for their children: The parent education class — the workshop itself — includes a “laboratory,” a nursery school in which the parents (i.e. the students of adult education) work hands-on to implement and flesh out the lessons they have learned. Furthermore, since each workshop is its own nonprofit entity, the director — at least in Serban’s view — has administrative responsibilities that he or she shares in part with an Assistant Director and a parent-comprised Board of Directors, all of which helps keep the program afloat. “Obviously someone needs to do it,” says Serban of the duties of the director beyond merely educating the adults. “But that is not the appropriate use of college money. It has been comingled over a very long period of time, but now we have to clarify it.”
For their part, supporters, staff, and alumni of the Starr King, Oaks, San Marcos, and Lou Grant workshops aren’t quite as convinced. (It should be noted that while the current issue relates explicitly to the Oaks director position, the general consensus is that the job description and pay scale changes would eventually be extended to all four programs.) Worried that a director position with less compensation and reduced qualifications will erode a job that is considered the foundation for a successful workshop and, in turn, cheapen the overall value of the programs, supporters are demanding a date to appear before the City College Board of Trustees to discuss the Serban-supported proposal. And with interim Oaks director Chiquita Waters’s contract set to expire in June, time is ticking to figure what exactly the job description and pay scale of her replacement will look like. “Basically, we can’t even advertise for the job right now because we have no idea what it looks like,” laments Oaks parent boardmember Andy Bealle. Despite ongoing talks with Serban — both sides have met numerous times in recent months to hash out a Memorandum of Understanding that defines the nature of the partnership, and legal opinions have been formulated both in support of and against City College’s position — the matter has yet to be directly addressed in a formal and public manner. Looking to change this, workshop supporters took out full-page ads in both the Independent and the News-Press this past week, asking to be agendized at the upcoming April 8 Board of Trustees meeting. To them, a proper airing of the issues is crucial because, as they and their lawyers see it, the historical job description and pay scale of the director position is perfectly in-step with the course description found in City College’s course catalog, and thus A-OK with the State Chancellor’s office.
In an interview with the Independent on Thursday, Serban promised that the workshop situation would be part of an update she is slated to give the board at the April 8 meeting on the broad topic of adult education, though no action will be taken.”We value our partnership [with the workshops] and we know they have been extremely valuable to our community over many years. We aren’t going to cut the parenting classes,” stated Serban before adding, “but what is the appropriate responsibility of the college? The appropriate responsibility is providing for the educational component. The students are the parents, the students are not the children…Our responsibility is not to run a parenting incorporated preschool.”