July 22, 2008

Kids Head to Camp, Little Money for Summer School

By Cheri Carlson, Ventura County Star, Calif.

Jul. 22--Instead of hitting the books at summer school, more children have flocked to local day camps this year, but not necessarily by choice.

School districts in Ventura County and throughout the state have cut back on summer school, sometimes completely canceling it, in response to steep budget cuts proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"We're trying our best to maintain regular education programs," said Joseph Richards, an assistant superintendent for the Ventura Unified School District. "We did not have the funding" to keep all summer programs.

Ventura kept middle and high school summer programs, but classes for about 1,000 younger students were cut. In Camarillo, the Pleasant Valley School District canceled its summer school this year, announcing in a letter and on its Web site that the program "is an expense that we simply cannot afford at this time."

In response, local summer camps said they have seen their numbers rise as families look for alternative summer programs.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Ventura had to turn away dozens of such families this summer at its Johnson Drive center, Unit Director Dolores Claudio said. The center is typically filled to its capacity of about 185 kids but doesn't usually have a summer waiting list. This year, that waiting list includes 60 families, and parents keep calling, Claudio said.

In Camarillo, more kids have signed up at the family YMCA this summer. The YMCA averages about 285 children a week in its summer camps, which range from swimming to robotics, said Associate Executive Director Megan Voshell. While it's normal for camps to fill up for a few weeks here or there, Voshell said, some this year are sold out all summer long.

Some camps even got their start because programs weren't being offered by local public schools. An example is a vocal institute that began this summer at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

"One reason we're creating it is because of the cuts," said Valencia Vas, a professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu and a co-founder of the CLU vocal camp. Schools don't have a lot of music programs, in general, she said, and some don't offer detailed vocal training.

Special education programs for the summer, required by law, were maintained in local districts, and Ventura schools will continue offering classes for children of migrant workers. Programs that suffered included intervention for students falling behind in core subjects such as math and language arts.

Those classes gave students a chance to catch up and continue practicing reading and language skills over the summer, said Kathy Asher, Ventura Unified's curriculum director. "I think we'll notice a difference" in the fall, she said.

To urge children to keep learning, Ventura Unified developed an online guide for families that lists activities for each day of summer break, organized into weekly themes such as bugs or the sky. It also lists events, including those at public libraries, and is available in Spanish and English.

"We didn't want to leave our families out there with nothing," Asher said, adding that print copies also are available.

Pleasant Valley's Web site lists various community programs offered in the summer. Assistant Superintendent Linda Peralta said families also can help students by encouraging them to read and write, reading to them and playing math games over the summer.

Nadine Beck, a member of the Dos Caminos School Parent Teacher Association in Camarillo, said her children haven't attended summer school in previous years, but she has heard from parents caught off guard by the cuts this year. Some had planned vacations around summer school schedules and had to scramble to find other options.

Pleasant Valley officials said they had no choice but to cancel summer school because of state funding cuts. Peralta said she doesn't expect students to experience major setbacks. Intervention programs are offered throughout the regular school year in Camarillo, Ventura and elsewhere.

In many districts, state funding for summer school regularly falls short of actual costs. And this year, state officials told districts they likely would get even fewer dollars. The intervention money districts regularly use to pay for summer programs, for example, faces a 46 percent cut, local officials said.

The Legislature has yet to approve a state budget, including funding for public education, but districts had to base their summer plans on preliminary budget proposals.

"The temptation is ... to cancel summer school," said Jeffrey Baarstad, the Conejo Valley Unified School District's deputy superintendent. But students were counting on the programs, staff had been hired and district officials didn't want to leave high-schoolers without an opportunity to make up credits needed to graduate.

Conejo Unified chose to keep summer school this year, including a program for elementary students, but planned to be more strict on class sizes and cancel those without enough kids. Down the road, he said, many of the summer programs could be cut "if this is going to be the future of summer school funding, or the lack thereof, from the state."


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