CAREER DEVELOPMENT has been a convenient target of budget cuts, but locals unions have found creative approaches for investing in staff.

A sabbatical program the AFT Guild negotiated with the San Diego Community College District allows nine classified employees a year to take 16 weeks paid leave to study at an accredited college.

Senior Account Clerk Nathan Talo used his sabbatical to take a giant step toward a psychology degree he began years ago.

Nathan Talo used his leave to take a giant step toward his psychology degree. Talo began working at Mesa College as a part-time account clerk 15 years ago, and is now a senior account clerk.

“I used to go to school full-time and work full-time,” he said. “But I had to cut back when my son was born. Working 40 hours a week and caring for a child consumes your time.” Talo is now a few credits away from his associate’s degree and transfer to San Diego State.

The sabbatical program promotes employee professional growth, not training to perform a current job. Applicants must submit a brief study plan, the degree that may be attained, and potential value to the district. They must carry a full academic load and earn at least a C in each course. A staff member must have worked for the district six consecutive years, and must work at least twice as long as the leave when they return. Time on leave is counted as regular service.

During her sabbatical, Trina Larson, an administrative secretary at Mesa College, finished her doctorate in English literature at UC San Diego, while teaching freshman writing classes there for 11 weeks.

“We’re extremely busy during these sabbaticals. You hope you’ll get a little downtime, but it doesn’t work that way.”

Robyn Kabonaizi works in the Veteran’s Affairs office at San Diego City College and enrolled in an accelerated online master’s program in teaching and learning with technology, which she has since completed.

“My goal is to set up classes online. We already offer a limited selection of classes online, but professors are offering more online, such as posting class material.”

INSTRUCTIONAL AIDES are also making the most of their training opportunities. Carolyn Samoa, vice president for paraprofessionals at United Educators of San Francisco, said San Francisco Unified furloughed paras and cut professional development from 18 to six hours per year. Now the district is slated to receive at least $8 million in additional funds, opening the door to restored para training. While most of the district’s 1500 paraprofessionals choose individual training, this year 45 special education aides paired with their classroom teachers in a new program funded by a union-backed parcel tax voters passed in 2008. The district was willing to fund nine additional hours in the paired program. “What often happens,” Samoa said, “is that you take a really good training, then go back to your classroom and find that your teacher learned something different. This way you learn together. It just made sense to go as a team because you work as a team in the classroom.”

Two actions may bring more professional training

ONE CFT supports Senate Bill 590 (de Leon, D-Los Angeles) that would establish a new staff development program and require local educational agencies to set aside funds for classified employees to learn best practices in student learning, campus safety, special education and other topics.

TWO Faculty and staff in the community colleges may see five days of mandated professional development per year if the Community College Board of Governors takes the recommendation of the Consultation Council. Classified representative to the council, Diana Ramon, from the Coast Federation of Classified Employees, said, “Going from zero to five days seems doable and wonderful.”