As a result of budget changes and fiscal uncertainty, the financial services staff of the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) proposed changes to the district’s Regional Occupation Program (ROP) at a Board of Education meeting on Feb. 5.
The proposal makes significant changes to the way technical education is taught in the district. The new proposal effectively “folds” the ROP program into a new Career Technical Education program (CTE).
Under this new program, most ROP teachers and staff will remain in their current positions and will still teach classes based on ROP guidelines. In addition, new multi-year classes, funded through grants, will be offered based on specific industry sectors including areas like architecture, engineering and a 3rd through twelfth grade coding program.
“Career Technical Education is a program that links academic knowledge and career technical training to postsecondary education and careers … the state has actually organized CTE into 15 industry sectors,” Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Terry Deloria said in an address to the board. “I would recommend that [the district] pick a few and get really good at them.”
Although ROP teachers were given pink slips following the Jan. 20 board meeting, according to the district plan, no teachers will be released before next school year. In the recommendation to the board, the only ROP class that will not be offered next year is Floral Design. This is due to the retirement of teacher Marc Byrd.
The financial service staff did, however, suggest cuts to administrative positions within the ROP program as well as a restructuring of the way teachers are paid. It is likely, according to the proposal, that the administrators will be re-hired in another capacity. In addition, it was recommended that the district stop paying for an adult trade program on the Santa Monica City Yard.
At the Feb. 5 meeting, board member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein expressed disapproval of the rumors that there would be critical cuts to the ROP program.
“I think the chopping block is the wrong language here … we want to reduce or prune [the program], not make cuts,” Jesswein said.
According to ROP coordinator Rebel Harrison, the proposal still has significant fiscal issues. It does not clearly outline how the district will pay for ROP teachers next year. ROP funding is set to be halted next year by the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) and allocated elsewhere.
In order to maintain the ROP teachers whose salaries were paid for with this money, Harrison has entertained a number of funding scenarios. These include paying for the teachers out of the district’s “general fund,” raising money through grants or petitioning LACOE to reduce its funding slowly over time while the district formulates a funding plan.
In addition, there remains a possibility that the ROP program could receive funding in the next statewide budget. According to Harrison, however, the budgeting process is lengthy and unpredictable.
One obstacle to sufficient ROP funding is the unique nature of the ROP courses. Currently, the state funds schools through a metric called Average Daily Attendance (ADA), where money is allocated based on the number of students in their desk every day. Many ROP classes, however, have limited class sizes. In addition, some classes involve out of school activities that can’t be funded through ADA. As a result, these programs are under significant financial strain.
At the Jan. 12 board meeting, board member Maria Leon-Vasquez raised questions about the classification of programs like dance and photography as ROP programs.
“It feels like we have a lot of programs that fit more into the arts arena than career and technical education … if a program falls under the arts, then they should be funded as an art,” Vazquez said.
According to Harrison, these programs must meet stringent requirements to be classified as an ROP class. For example, teachers are only allowed to teach ROP courses if they have professional experience.
“ROP/CTE instructors are mandated to have substantive experience as professionals in their field,” Harrison said. “This expertise allows them to bring additional depth and breadth to their students.”
Harrison has seen this level of instruction benefit her own son. As a student, Harrison’s son was able to use ROP classes to turn his hobbies into a career.
“My son was a professional paintballer, and through the skills he learned in the ROP film and digital design courses, he was able to transfer his passion into a career in action sports as a creative director and designer,” Harrison said.