Some relief for beleaguered community education program

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 12:22am

Nashville’s beleaguered community education program is expected to soon have a new governance structure in place, as well as enterprise dollars to bring about the changes.

On Monday, members of Metro Council’s Budget and Finance Committee voted to allocate $60,000 from the community education program’s enterprise fund — which includes program reserve dollars and funds raised by the program itself — to make up for a funding shortfall that could have been created by this year’s proposed Metro budget.

The Community Education program, which includes initiatives ranging from adult literacy to activities for senior citizens, is in the process of being reinvented. A task force has worked for the past few months to restructure the program and recently decided that the program will best be served by a new executive director.

But plans for the new structure could have been hampered by this year’s exceptionally tight Metro budget. The funds allocated to Community Education for this coming year stood to be 35 percent lower than last year, according to task force member and Metro Council member Jason Holleman.

To help make up for the shortfall, Metro’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting approved last night $60,000 in enterprise funds. The dollars can be used as a short-term solution to pay for a new executive director, Holleman said.

“I have some concern that we’re using one-time money to fund an ongoing operating expense. Obviously that’s not a long-term, sustainable model,” Holleman said. “Hopefully everybody understands that once we get an executive director in there, assuming that executive director is doing things that they need to do and enhancing the program, we will include that in the operating budget for next year.”

Several months ago, Nashville’s Community Education program was thrown into serious jeopardy, in part because of trouble with community pools and in part because of a governance structure many say was convoluted.

The program was subsidized for just under $600,000 a year by Metro, but was operated at Cohn School and received staff from Metro Nashville Public Schools. Both government arms were involved in program funding and decision-making.

The new proposed structure suggests that Community Education be primarily broken from Metro schools, though a Memorandum of Understanding will be established that clarifies the programs use of school district facilities.

A new board managing the program would include three members elected by Metro Council, three members appointed by the Mayor’s Office and approved by the Council, and a seventh member who is appointed by the Director of Metro Schools. That new board, once established, would hire and evaluate the new executive director.