RICHMOND -- The West Contra Costa school district will spend about $1.5 million on adult education next year, about the same level of annual funding the program has received since the economic downturn began in 2008.

Advocates for the adult programs say the English language instruction in adult school has a spinoff value for kids in the district, because it gives parents the ability to tutor their children in English. They say it also helps immigrant parents get jobs to support their families.

The school board on Wednesday preserved the district's adult school even as it approved continuation of a policy that sends state dollars earmarked for special programs into its general operating budget.

This funding "flexibility," as it is called, has been allowed by the Legislature since the economic downturn began in the 2008-09 fiscal year. It permits districts to use money once earmarked for reducing class sizes, gifted and talented programs and adult education, to name a few examples, to pay for regular school programs.

The flexibility expires at the end of the 2014-15 school year for some programs and at the end of 2015-16 for others, likely forcing the district to scale back regular school programs.

"We would have to stick to the parameters of class-size reduction," school board member Todd Groves said. "Only really wealthy districts are able to do that right now."

But West Contra Costa and many other districts are counting on a plan from Gov. Jerry Brown that would eliminate the categorical spending requirements entirely, letting school boards continue to allot their entire incomes according to their own priorities.

West Contra Costa has lost about $46 million in total income since the downturn began, with a current annual operating budget of about $170 million, according to Superintendent Bruce Harter.

"It brings us no joy to rob Peter to pay Paul, but I don't think we have a lot of choices," Groves said. "Sometimes we are making the least worst decisions."

Adult education's annual budget has been cut, but the core program has been preserved, he said.

"Adult school was receiving $3 million to $4 million annually, and we took half of it and applied it to general operating expenses," Groves said. "You pit the needs of adults against those of kids, and the adults will lose."

  • West Contra Costa is anticipating a decision by the state Board of Education on May 9 on its application for a waiver to its bond debt ceiling. The waiver would allow the district to sell bonds authorized under Measure E, passed by voters in November, to continue replacing and rebuilding aging school buildings.

    The district also wants to use Measure E money to pay for new classroom technology that would allow it to eliminate textbooks in favor of electronic devices for instruction and testing.

  • Board member Charles Ramsey announced that eight alumni of the district's Ivy League Connection program were admitted to Ivy League colleges, including Yale, Penn and Cornell, and 21 others will be attending the University of California and other competitive-admission institutions in the fall.

    The Ivy League Connection matches West Contra Costa students with Ivy League alumni in the Bay Area for mentoring and places them in summer study programs at top eastern U.S. universities while they are in high school.