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Bill would move adult ed to colleges

But the proposed shift of the programs from school districts to community colleges is running into opposition.

By KATHERINE GAZELLA

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2000


A bill before the Florida Legislature could result in a major change in who teaches adults everything from computer programming to the English language.

The measure, which would shift all adult education from school districts to community colleges, is meeting opposition from public school officials. Even some of the community colleges intended to benefit from the legislation don't want responsibility for all adult education courses.

But backers say it makes sense for community colleges to educate adults and public schools to focus on students in grades K-12. They also say the state should place work-force training programs under a single umbrella so businesses will have an easier time finding potential employees.

"I think we're better trained for it. We're here to serve adults," said Robert Judson, president of Pasco-Hernando Community College.

Officials from Hillsborough Community College and the state community college system also support the measure.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. George Kirkpatrick, R-Gainesville, calls for school districts to transfer administration of adult work-force education and technical centers to community colleges by July 1. Community colleges also would take over other adult classes, such as literacy programs, General Educational Development classes and English as a second language.

The bill has been introduced in the House and Senate and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Education Committee. Kirkpatrick is on the board of directors of the Santa Fe Community College Endowment Corp. He did not return numerous calls seeking comment this week.

Currently, both school districts and community colleges offer adult education courses ranging from court reporting to auto mechanics to massage therapy. Some of the programs lead to certification in specific areas; others are offered for students' personal enrichment or to supplement adults' basic education. Colleges and school districts work together to reduce duplication.

Prices for the classes vary. A 14-week medical billing course at Erwin Technical Center in Tampa costs $466; a one-year pharmacy technician class at Brewster Technical Center in Tampa costs nearly $2,000. It is unclear how much community colleges would charge.

Local superintendents oppose the bill, arguing they have successfully taught adult education for years.

"It's radical," said RoseAnne Bowers, assistant superintendent for technical, career and adult education in Hillsborough County. "Our community will feel the loss tremendously."

Pinellas Superintendent Howard Hinesley said it may make sense for community colleges in some areas to take over adult education. But in Pinellas, he said, the current system is the best.

"We favor that this decision be made locally," he said.

St. Petersburg Junior College supports the bill, but only because it includes provisions allowing colleges to contract out some courses to public schools, said Mike Richardson, executive assistant to the president at SPJC. He said the school has a good relationship with Pinellas public schools and he wants that to continue.

"We're not interested in that business in Pinellas County," he said. "We get along just fine with our school board."

Technical centers would be turned over to community colleges or leased to them. In addition, many community college officials said they would want to hold classes at public schools, and probably would hire many of the instructors now employed by school districts.

Bowers said she worries that some classes would no longer be offered if community colleges are in charge. She predicted that private businesses, some of which may have shaky credibility, will pick up the slack.

"I can't imagine HCC opening up a cosmetology studio or a welding studio," Bowers said. "I think you'd see more storefront schools than you can imagine."

Not to mention the kinds of classes many adults take for self-enrichment, like wood shop or beginning art classes.

Judson agreed some classes could be cut if they don't make sense in the current job market.

"We're training people for jobs," he said. "We would continue to offer any of those programs that are viable."

-- Katherine Gazella can be reached at (813)226-3472 or gazella@sptimes.com.

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