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Blind put into a bind

Proposed budget calls for Visual Service Center to close in July
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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For 34 years, it’s been a place the foothills’ visually impaired population can turn to for education, support and friendship. If it closes because of what Placer School for Adults Principal Judy McCoy says are tough choices based on economic necessity, it will make for a darker world for many. On Tuesday, about a dozen Placer Visual Service Center students were busy on craft projects like step stools and baskets while others talked animatedly and easily with one another. Lou Richards, whose macular degeneration has caused decreasing sight since 1980, worked on a basket while his guide dog Aiden rested on the floor nearby. Richards said he found out about the class 10 years ago and learned through the center that he could get a guide dog even though he wasn’t completely blind. A closure of the North Auburn school, proposed for this summer, would leave people at home, with little in the way of outside options, he said. “It’s kind of scary,” Richards said. “A lot of people rely on this. There are a lot of nice people and they’re all the same as you are.” Marianne Enos of Newcastle said the school has helped teach people to live with their blindness through classes on cooking, cleaning and other skills that make them more independent. She attends crafts classes on Thursdays in the center’s converted World War II hospital building at the Placer County Government Center. “I don’t think there’s anywhere else for us to go,” Enos said. “We’re stranded at home.” Under an adult school budget to be considered by the Placer Union High School District board on June 11, McCoy said the visual center would close at the end of July. State and local spending cuts have forced the adult school to shave 20 percent off its expenditures, dropping next year’s proposed budget to $1.7 million. Plans to meet that budget target include laying off the equivalent of 8.5 full-time teaching positions. Visual center teacher Eileen Boyce is among the adult school employees facing layoffs. She has worked there three years and doesn’t have the seniority that other instructors do but she wonders why the center can’t continue with another teacher. “Supposedly, others don’t have the credentials,” Boyce said. “It’s a stupid reason to close down a school. It’s been here 34 years and it’s one of a kind.” McCoy said state funding for the adult school is contingent on providing job preparation with measurable outcomes – something the vision center can’t give. Hard economic times are also forcing closure of a program partnered with the county probation department to teach prisoners on house arrest with ankle monitors. In addition, evening and weekend programs for mentally disabled adults are also under consideration for closure. McCoy said the adult school is taking drastic measures to ensure it can keep its doors open and programs continuing in the fall. The visual center’s budget has dropped from $40,311 in 2007-08 to $29,198 this year, she said. At the same time, it has operated with a shortfall of $18,000 this year. “Our option is we either balance our budget or we don’t survive,” McCoy said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.