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Just as Program Was Winning Honors, Its Funds Are Being Cut a Third : Leader of Literacy Program to Resign

May 23, 1985|VICTOR VALLE | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — Barbara Bush, wife of Vice President George Bush, visited here recently to honor what many people say is the most successful literacy program in the state.

A long-time literacy advocate, Bush lauded Pasadena Reads, an experimental literacy program launched early last year with federal and state funds that aimed to be volunteer-run and community-funded within three years.

But Bush had a surprise coming to her--a letter from Reads coordinator Theresa Rayburn warning that a 33% reduction in funding for next year was threatening the success of the very program Bush was honoring. To maintain the program's current rate of spending, Rayburn said, Pasadena Reads would need $90,000 from the state for the next fiscal year. The state, however, has offered a maximum of only $46,500.

200 Adults Tutored

The next day, Rayburn resigned from her position effective June 1, arguing that the program she had designed and which top state library officials have termed "exemplary" was destined to fail without long-term state and federal funding. With a total budget of $105,500 for the program's first 18 months, Rayburn said she organized a literacy program that at its peak tutored about 200 adults per week, about 80% of them black, Latino and Asian.

Pasadena Reads was one of 26 literacy programs begun in January, 1984. Pasadena Reads received a one-time federal grant of $67,000, which was supplemented nine months later with $38,500 from the state. The state's initial funding expires in June; starting in July, the state will change its literacy program allocations to a fiscal-year basis.

The reactions to Rayburn's resignation have been mixed. Susan Porter Rose, Barbara Bush's chief of staff, said from Washington that Bush could not respond to Rayburn's letter other than to say that it did raise some "serious questions," to which Bush promised to respond in a letter to Rayburn.

Edward Szynaka, director of the Pasadena Public Library, which oversees Pasadena Reads, said that Rayburn's letter to Bush was "highly inappropriate."

Szynaka said the overall one-third cut in funding was anticipated when the program was founded and will not lessen the library's commitment to the program.

Duties to Be Shifted

Sally Martin, the library's principal social services librarian and Rayburn's immediate supervisor, said she had hoped Rayburn would stay on the job until September, when the coordinating duties were scheduled to be assigned to a full-time library staff member.

Despite Rayburn's resignation, the loss of a consulting position and cutbacks in staff hours in next year's budget, Szynaka said Pasadena Reads will continue to provide tutoring services by having library staff members administer the largely volunteer program.

Al Bennett, the state library's literacy specialist, said that although Rayburn's letter to Bush and her resignation represent an "unfortunate situation," he understands her frustrations with funding.

Rayburn said she quit because the program had become unworkable without adequate financial support. She said she could have stayed on as the coordinator at a salary less than her $30,000 a year, but claimed that other parts of the program would have suffered.

Rayburn is not alone in her concern about funding for the literacy program. Her warning of a faltering program was echoed in the letters of other literacy coordinators--many are expecting budget reductions as severe as that affecting Pasadena Reads--sent to the California Library Services Board which administers the program's budget.

As a result of the appeals, the state board moved last week to re-examine funding schedules for its programs, which now total 49, said Cameron Robertson, the state library's literacy campaign program manager.

"Maybe the expectations to generate local support were unrealistic," Robertson said. "Maybe it will require a more intensive effort on our part to generate (private) funds and community support."

Robertson said he will submit his findings to the board in August. The board's action, however, "does not hold out any relief to projects having difficulties (now), but it does hold out some hope for the future," he said.

But, he added, "there's no backing off on the part of the board's commitment" to making the statewide program work.

"We are learning as we go," said state Librarian Gary Strong, the architect of the nation's first statewide and state-funded literacy campaign. Strong, who called Pasadena Reads "exemplary" for the teaching materials developed by Rayburn for Pasadena's minority residents, said the funding problems are part of an evolving program aimed at eradicating adult illiteracy, which he said handicaps about 6 million Californians.

Three-Year Reduction

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