On April 9, the majority of the Sweetwater Union High School District board (John McCann, Arlie Ricasa, and Jim Cartmill) voted to cut the district’s Regional Occupation Program/Career Technical Education and adult-school programs.
Funding for the program comes from the state and is channeled through the San Diego County Department of Education. According to Albert Alt, Sweetwater’s new chief financial officer, the county has not promised the district any specific dollar amount and will be appropriating money according to its own priorities, first to the juvenile court system.
Sweetwater superintendent Ed Brand said he is meeting with Marty Block, Ben Hueso, and Juan Vargas about the problem. Boardmember John McCann said, “If I had a magic wand I would restore the whole program.”
The district usually gets $7.5 million for its Regional Occupation Program/Career Technical Education, according to trustee Pearl Quiñones. She has pointed out that other school districts have chosen not to cut the programs and are willing wait for the May budget revisions. The district has borrowed $1.5 million from the Regional Occupation Program funds for purposes other than funding the program.
Quiñones stated, “I have crunched the numbers, and this program only needs $3.5 [million] to function.”
Many community members who are enrolled in ROP classes addressed the board on April 9. Jerry Thomas, a longtime Chula Vista resident who is currently enrolled in an engineering class through ROP/CTE, told the board, “The poor cannot afford the price of higher education…. The ROP program is the educational and workforce safety net that links the classroom to the workforce.”
Classmates from an ROP phlebotomy class were particularly vocal in their protest. One told the board: “We are asking you for help now; we may be the people you are asking for help in the future.”
A visit to the phlebotomy class the day after the vote demonstrated the students are daunted but not defeated. They are studying as hard as ever while their future hangs in the balance.
The course they are taking through the Sweetwater ROP/CTE is free but demands five months of study followed by 250 hours of internship, which was scheduled for this summer.
On the day of the visit, their professor Jean Dessources was instructing students on eye-flushing procedures. In addition to phlebotomy, enrollees are prepared for many kinds of medical emergencies.
Dessources has taught the class for seven years. Although his future is uncertain, his concern was for the class. “I feel my students are in limbo right now. They can’t get their certification without their internships” because the internships are no longer funded.
Two students said they enrolled in the same course at Pima Medical Institute (a private institution) and it cost them $1400. They both felt they got more individualized attention in the ROP class.
All of the students say they feel they are under a great deal of stress now. One said, “I have paying for daycare for five months; without an internship it will be all for nothing.”
Cynthia Mendoza, however, seemed to speak for the whole class when she said, “We’re not giving up. Tonight [April 10] we’re going to the County Board of Education meeting. We’ll go to Obama if we have to.”