West Valley Occupational Center’s doors may close

West Valley Occupational Center will close after June 30 due to budgetary constraints, unless the May revision of the state budget provides more money for the district.


The occupational center, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), is facing the closure of its school after a $557 million shortfall in the budget resulted in cutting funding to all adult education in the district, according to Assistant Principal Don Kihara.


“It’s not one hundred percent positive that it will be closing,” Kihara said. “We’re funded through June 30. After that it’s uncertain what the future will be.”


Approximately 30 schools within the LAUSD, which covers San Pedro, Huntington Beach, East Los Angeles and a majority of the San Fernando Valley, will be affected by this decision, according to Kihara.


Servicing about 200,000 students in the LAUSD, adult education provides adult students a way to change careers, obtain a GED or high school diploma, and keep trained while between jobs.


However, the closing of West Valley won’t have a huge impact on Pierce, despite the proximity of the schools.


“There are private schools students can go to for occupational training, and they can go to community colleges to some extent,” Kihara said.


The center was “categorically funded” for some time, meaning the funds were earmarked for adult education.


But the 2009/2010 budget changed their funds to Tier 3 Flexibility, meaning the district can choose to adjust the funds as they see fit.


However, many people have shown their support for the adult education program, writing to their congressmen, and legislators have come to support the program.


“We have a lot of support from legislators who have written to the school board,” Kihara said. “It’s really a budget issue. If the budget could be balanced without sweeping money away from adult education, I’m sure they would.”


Richard Fischetto, Head of the Electronic and IT department and instructor at the school, will have been with the school 25 years in June and believes the decision is a strategic mistake.


For him, the impact of the closing isn’t what it will do to him so much as what it will do to his grandson and the rest of the people who need career training rather than further education.


“What aggravates me the most is that they’re taking away choice,” Fischetto said. “Everybody needs choices. You should have the choice to go from school to work or school to college.”


He also sees the effect that it will have on those that use adult education to obtain the training they need to get back to work immediately.


“You’re not going to get out of poverty without career skills,” Fischetto said.


Student Norma Tapia knows exactly what Fischetto is talking about, as she has been at West Valley for almost a year and a half studying cosmetology, taking advantage of training provided by her unemployment.


“If the unemployment continues to pay for my training, I’m going to continue [elsewhere],” Tapia said. “If not, I’m going to have to find a job. This was my opportunity to change my career. I wanted to be my own boss, but we’ll have to wait and see.”


Steven Lofton, a student of medical billing and coding, started attending the center this January, making this announcement just another bump in the road to occupational training.


“I first looked at Pierce, and after I made some inquiries I found out they offer an extension,” Lofton said. “Otherwise[, if that doesn’t work, I’m going to] LA City College.”


The bleak future doesn’t bother Kihara so much because the value of these centers to the community would make closures have a negative impact on the San Fernando Valley.


“I think the need is [always] going to exist,” Kihara said. “If we can keep some framework alive for the 2012/13 year, we can restore the programs cut.”