Commerce Literacy Project Head Quits

Times Staff Writer

The director of the city's literacy program has announced his resignation as the program faces state funding reductions with no promise of city support in sight.

Despite heavy community support for the project, Frank Berumen, director of the 1 1/2-year-old program, said Monday that he will resign as of June 21. He said he has found it difficult to run a literacy program and seek funding for it at the same time.

Berumen's frustration mirrors that of Theresa Rayburn, coordinator of the literacy program in Pasadena, who announced her resignation last month because funds for that project will be cut by a third next year.

The literacy programs are among 44 three-year projects started by libraries last year through the California Literacy Campaign, which was funded with $2.5 million from the federal government and another $2.6 million from the California Library Services Act.

However, the funds allocated by the literacy campaign will be reduced by a third according to a formula set up by the state, forcing cities to contribute money or let the programs dwindle.

The state planned the funding reduction under three assumptions: that money for start-up expenses could be cut in the second or third year of the programs, that maintenance expenses would remain the same and that cities or other entities would help pay to continue the programs.

Underestimated Funding

But state library officials now say that they did not foresee that successful projects would require as much, or more, money to continue each year or that some cities would not be willing to help support them.

Funding for the Commerce program for this fiscal year ends this month. It received $20,514 in start-up funds from the literacy campaign in fiscal 1983. In fiscal 1984, it received $109,000 from the literacy campaign and $20,000 from the city, according to acting City Administrator Ed Oliva.

However, in the next fiscal year, with allocations from the state's literacy campaign cut by 33%, the program needs an additional $40,000 from the city to run at the same level, Berumen said.

Even at the current funding level, Berumen said there are not enough tutors for the program, which has at least 100 people on a waiting list.

Under the program, tutors are trained to teach people how to read and write. In some cases, the students are taught to speak, as well as read and write, English.

Berumen said, "It's not as if we're asking for anything extravagant. We're merely asking for enough money to keep the program at the same level."

The city rejected a budget proposal that would have allowed literacy program coordinators to seek city funds, according to Mayor James B. Dimas.

He said that in rejecting the request, Oliva followed procedures set by the previous City Council in which programs funded by grants were to be phased out after three years.

Despite the proposed budget's rejection of money for the program, Dimas called it "successful" and a model for such programs in the state. He said he favored some city funding for it.

Two other councilmen also said they favored some funding but, like Dimas, would not indicate if the city would keep it running at its current level. Two others could not be reached for comment.

The Legislature this month will consider spending $3.5 million for literacy campaigns throughout the state. Even if approved, that would not mean money would be allocated to the program in Commerce.

Even so, Dimas and Oliva maintained that a lack of communication and misunderstanding of city procedures on the part of the literacy coordinators were the reasons for friction between the city and program supporters.

"They hit the panic button," Dimas said, referring to an intense community campaign that urged the city to support the project.

"Unfortunately," he said, "we have some staff people heading the literacy program who are not used to dealing with the city. They're used to dealing with radical individuals."

But Berumen said that he had merely asked students to write or call their city and state representatives in face of the funding uncertainty. The rest of the campaign was spontaneous, he said.

In the last two weeks, community activists have circulated flyers in the area, submitted a 30-page petition with 735 signatures to the council and flooded City Hall with telephone calls and letters asking for city funding.

Budget Hearing

Dimas conceded that because of the stir, the council will consider allocating some money for the program at a budget hearing that begins at 8 a.m. Saturday at City Hall, 2535 Commerce Way. The library budget and literacy project are scheduled for consideration at 4 p.m.

Martin Gomez, a minority services consultant for the California State Library, said the state library program made some wrong assumptions about how much money the programs needed to survive after the initial years.

"In the whole funding concept, because of our own shortsightedness or because of it being new, we didn't realize a successful program may need more money or can't do as good a job with less," he said, adding that the length and amounts of funding will be reviewed and probably changed.

The Commerce program--which has served 190 of 344 people who have applied for help--has been such a success, he said, that there is more demand for its services than its funding can provide.

Gomez said state officials are encouraging cities to support the literacy projects in whatever way they can. In Monterey Park, for example, he said, council members serve as tutors.

$225,000 Grant

The Los Angeles County Public Library used its $225,000 grant from the state to establish literacy centers in Cudahy, Paramount, South Gate, Pico Rivera, San Gabriel, San Fernando, Carson, Lawndale, La Verne, Quartz Hill and Woodcrest.

Prepared for the state cuts, the county will pick up the entire cost of continuing those new projects, said Connie Phillips, literacy coordinator for the county. The county, she said, already has money in its budget for literacy programs begun in other cities in 1977.

Just how much city money the Commerce program may receive is unknown.

Councilman Michael Guerra said he favors full funding for it.

Dimas declined to say how much money he would favor for the program. He cited priority for other city projects such as a $2-million campsite at Lake Arrowhead that is leased by the city for residents and employees each year. It is now up for sale and the city wants to buy it, he said.

Another priority is the $3-million community center for the Bristow Park area in the northwest part of the city, Councilman Arturo Marquez said, adding that the literacy program has a lower priority.

Councilmen Robert Cornejo and Lawrence Maese could not be reached for comment.

Raquel Salinas said the city "should prioritize education. They have an obligation to the illiterate."

"It's hard for people who carry heavy loads and work in factories to make the sacrifice and come to class to better themselves," she said, citing cases in which one student had received three job promotions, another learned to read street signs and keep doctor's appointments on her own and another who had also learned to speak English in the class.

Oliva and Marquez suggested that the program might be duplicating services of the school district's adult education programs and that the program could have been beefed up by volunteers.

But, Gomez said, the literacy projects were initiated to bridge the gap for those without the basic skills needed to take adult education or community college classes.

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