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School cuts target 29-year-old program

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The summer — and winters, springs and autumns — could be getting a lot longer for almost 300 developmentally disabled adults in the Auburn area. The financially strapped Placer School for Adults — which is dealing with heavy cuts mandated by state government burdened by a projected $24 billion deficit — is moving toward letting go of the three-decade-old Community Resource Education program. The program provides recreational and learning opportunities for developmentally disabled adults ages 18 and over. Jennifer Lile, a teacher who has been with the program for 25 years, said an adult school staff recommendation to shut the program down will go to the Placer Union High School District board Thursday. Expecting board approval to stop funding the program after June 30, Lile said she’s attempting to work with other groups and organizations in the area — as well as parents and care-givers — to help the program re-create itself outside the school system under another as-yet-unknown organization’s umbrella. At one time, Community Resource Education was affiliated with the Auburn Recreation District. Lile said she’s exploring a return to that district or finding another location away from Auburn, possibly in Loomis. The program had been receiving average daily attendance funding from the state to help pay for teachers and staffing. Because of the special needs of participants, the student-staff ratio is 1 to 5, Lile said. Evening programs include gardening, horsemanship and art. Weekends provide an opportunity for participants to get out of the house for a variety of activities. This month, the list includes watching live harness racing at Cal Expo, a pizza-movie night, picnic, River Cats baseball game in Sacramento, bowling and a barbecue. Students pay food and admission prices during activities. “I would be bored at home,” said Susan Burton, a developmentally disabled woman in her 40s. Burton said she’d particularly miss activities like Christmas parties, dances and a ranch-work class if the program shut down. Kathy Liegerot, an activity aide, said she realizes state and local schools cuts have been hard for everyone – noting that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mother-in-law started the Special Olympics in 1968. One of the reasons for the cutbacks has been the renewed emphasis on outcome-based vocational training. But Liegerot said she sees that in program participants – just in different ways, particularly with many who hold down jobs. After the voters’ rejection of five ballot measures that could have raised taxes and fees, Schwarzenegger proposed $1.6 billion more in education funding reductions this school year and $4.16 billion more for the fiscal year starting July 1. That’s in addition to $11.6 billion schools and colleges were cut in February’s budget deal. Eric Vereyken, Placer School for Adults assistant principal, said that has translated into budget reductions that have forced administrators to make recommendations on closures based on the financial problems the state is experiencing. Lile said many developmentally disabled Community Resource Education participants aren’t able to fathom the possibilities after June 30 and she’s working hard to find a solution to keep moving ahead after that date with a program that has real value. After their years in the school system have finished, the reality hits developmentally disabled adults and their care givers that they’re still at home, Lile said. That’s when parents come to the program, realizing their son or daughter needs a social life. “I feel a real responsibility for these people,” Lile said. “A lot I’ve known for, gosh, 30 years, and we have new ones all the time. This has all been real devastating.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.