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Budget Cuts Expand to Vietnamese School

3 December 2008 One Comment

By Adelaide Chen

Financial setbacks and anticipated cuts in public education have impacted at least one community program in Oakland.  A volunteer-run Vietnamese language school has raised tuition and decreased teacher stipends in order to pay $7000 to $8000 in janitorial fees for the first time.

This school year has been a financial headache for executive director Ky Vo and his team of volunteers.  For the past decade, the Huong Viet Community Center has held classes at Roosevelt Middle School in the San Antonio neighborhood, drawing about 80 kids from the East Bay.

Faced with the possibility of being unable to afford the school facilities, Huong Viet raised tuition to $250 per student for 33 Saturday sessions.

In addition, the teachers agreed to decrease their stipends, said Vietnamese instructor Chanh Tran, 31, who also teaches math at a local high school during the week.

“We’re kind of worried about whether we’re able to run the school anymore. If we don’t have a budget, we aren’t able to rent a facility,” she said.

The teachers agreed to take home $30 for each three-hour class, rather than $40.  One board member referred to the stipends as “gas money” because half of the eight teachers drive from Richmond, Hayward, and Berkeley.

“I’m impressed with the teachers.  They’re very dedicated,” said Ky Vo, executive director of Huong Viet.  “Some donate (their stipends) back to us.”

As the head of Huong Viet, Vo himself does not receive a stipend.  Nor did he attend Vietnamese school as a kid growing up in Oakland.  Now he seems content giving up his Saturday mornings so that other kids can have the opportunity.

Parents started the school two decades ago so kids could learn Vietnamese in an organized way, he said.  Although some churches and temples offer Vietnamese language classes, Huong Viet is the only non-denominational school in the East Bay.  Increasing numbers of second-generation Vietnamese mean student numbers are growing—the kindergarten class doubled this year.

The East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC), whose staff runs Saturday morning detention and an after-school program, has always extended the use of Roosevelt Middle School to Vietnamese classes for the past decade, said Gianna Tran, executive director.

But last December, Tran received an invoice for janitorial overtime.  Her organization paid for it and notified Huong Viet to take over the costs starting in the 2008-2009 school year, she said.

“We’re all bleeding the same way,” said Tran. “No one should suspect they’re immune to (budget cuts).”

“In the past, I’ve had extra money to pay custodians to open the school on weekends,” said Theresa Clincy, principal of Roosevelt Middle School.

But in order to balance her school’s budget, her first priority was to maintain staffing levels.  She said she anticipated additional cuts in the state’s education budget this year.

Huong Viet has never paid for the use of as many as eight classrooms.  But they don’t charge parents for the summer activity sessions either.

The East Bay Chinese School spends more than $10,000 to pay teacher stipends and lease Westlake Middle School in Oakland’s Grand Lake neighborhood, said Principal Ming Wu.  But the student fees offset the costs.  Parents contribute over $300 per student for 32 sessions, a $25 one-time new student fee, and an $80 deposit per family.

Unlike Huong Viet, the Chinese language school is experiencing rapid growth because students of other races are learning Mandarin, said Wu.  About 400 students, including ones from black and white families, use about 30 classrooms, including the auditorium, on Saturdays.

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