Commerce OKs $12,000 to Rescue Threatened Literacy Tutor Project

Times Staff Writer

This city has allocated $12,000 to temporarily rescue its literacy program, which was threatened by a planned reduction in state funding.

The City Council allocated the money, sufficient to last three months, at a budget hearing a week ago and proposed that the money be used to pay for tutors. Councilmen said that the money was a stopgap in hopes that additional state funding would be voted by the Legislature and then allocated to Commerce by the California Literacy Campaign.

"We tried to save the program," Councilman Lawrence Maese said Thursday. "We didn't want it to die altogether."

In what Maese called a "change of heart," a majority of the council members indicated in interviews that they would keep the program alive even if the state did not fully fund the classes taught here.

The literacy campaign made its allocations to cities with the understanding that the money would be cut by a third in the second full year and that the cities would have to make up the difference or let their programs dwindle.

Efforts Pledged

Regardless of what happens on the state level, Maese said, "I'll do my best to push (full city funding) through."

Councilman Michael Guerra said, "We tried to give it as much as we can so that it will continue. We like the program and it has been a tremendous help to the community."

Arturo Marquez is the only councilman who opposes city funding for the program. Mayor James Dimas could not be reached for comment, but earlier said he favored allocating city money for it.

The council initially had planned to exclude the program from its budget in the next fiscal year. That would have let the 1 1/2-year-old program die, but the council was pressured into providing some funding for it, following an intense community campaign.

The literacy program is one of 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.

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

The city would have to provide about $40,000 to maintain the program at its current level for the entire year, city officials said.

The city's recent allocation was limited to $12,000 because the city estimated that it takes $4,000 a month to run the program, acting City Administrator Ed Oliva said.

Volunteers Favored

To save money, Oliva favors using a tutor or a volunteer to administer the program instead of a paid administrator.

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

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