Salinas, CA – Every day starts and ends the same way for students in the Silver Star Youth Program. A van from the Monterey County Probation Department takes them door to door, from their homes to Rancho Cielo and back.
Rancho Cielo is a 100-acre ranch on the outskirts of Salinas. It offers vocational training, educational and recreational opportunities to local, at-risk kids. Students in the Silver Star Youth Program are working on their high school diplomas. Most are on probation and have been mixed up in gangs. They joined the program for a fresh start. Deputy Probation Officer David Campos mentors the kids. "A big part of it is just getting them here. If you can get them here, everything else just takes over. What we actually do here, they have to be here for any of it to work," said Campos.
The Probation Department uses funds from the state vehicle license fee to get the students here. It will lose that money when an increase to the fee sunsets June 30th. Back in 2009 the fee went up half a percent to reduce the state's budget deficit. In a repeat attempt to address yet another deficit, Governor Jerry Brown wants to ask voters to maintain the increase. But his idea does not have enough support in the legislature.
"This is really the only public funding we get," said Rancho Cielo Executive Director Susie Brusa, "everything else we get on campus is through private donations." She plans to beat the June 30th deadline by finding her own solution. She's in talks with the office of education to pick up some of the kids. "They are sending out short buses into South County, the Peninsula and Prundale and those buses come back empty in the morning. So we are hoping that we can fill from the remote areas in the morning without Silver Star kids," said Brusa.
But it's a little more complicated in Salinas. For those who live in the city, Brusa says, the door to door service is simply safer than a bus stop. "The gang fabric in the city is very complex. And we would risk having kids who have different affiliations standing together on a street corner waiting for a bus and that's just you know, not a good recipe," said Brusa. She says it could draw the wrong kind of attention. "So we ask them not to engage in gang activity, but it doesn't necessarily erase the generations that come before them: their own siblings, their own parents, their own cousins, it's systemic. It's entrenched," she continued. So Brusa is searching for private funding or seeking community partnerships to continue the door to door service. She says come next month, she'll get the kids to campus one way or another.
Governor Brown is still seeking votes in the legislature to put the issue on the ballot this Fall, and bridge the funding in the meantime. He wants voters to decide whether to maintain the increase of the vehicle license fee.