Bilingual ed advocates target board members

Bilingual education advocates say they will try today to oust three Department of Education advisory council members accused of using their appointed positions to further a ballot initiative that would change the current law.

The bilingual education support group, Leave No Child Behind, is alleging conflicts of interest by Bilingual Education Advisory Council members Rosalie Porter, Christine Rossell and Lincoln Tamayo due to their affiliation with the English for the Children campaign.

Leave No Child Behind members say they will file a complaint with Attorney General Tom Reilly today. The 13-member council advises Education Commissioner David Driscoll on bilingual education policy.

“These individuals have used their positions on the advisory council to attempt to influence the passage of a ballot initiative,” states the complaint to be filed by 14 parents of bilingual children. “We believe that there has been a breach of the state’s ethics laws and other possible illegalities . . . Massachusetts taxpayers should not be funding political campaign advocacy.”

English for the Children is pushing for a mandatory one-year English immersion program to replace current law that allows the state’s 46,000 students to stay in bilingual classes for three years or more. The group is an offshoot of a California-based movement, funded by Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz. A similar law was passed in that state in 1998.

Leave No Child Behind backs a legislative bill calling on each school district to tailor a program for each bilingual child.

Tamayo resigned as principal of Chelsea High School to become co-chairman of the English for the Children campaign for which he has drawn at least $17,000 in consulting fees. But he denies any conflict of interest.

“This is another clear sign of desperation for an organization that cannot stand on the merits of bilingual education,” Tamayo said. “Rather than advocate for a system that has failed a generation of immigrant students, the Leave No Child Behind (group) has come up with one specious and inconsequential claim after another.”

“(The council is) strictly advisory in nature,” he added. “The council does have the authority to say we would support the initiative, but the Board of Education can decide on its own to ignore that advice.”

Porter, a former bilingual education director for the Newton schools, said she received $1,000 from the English for the Children group, but only as reimbursement for out-of-pocket traveling costs.

“This is my pro bono work,” said the five-year council member. “We have been very careful about not doing any propaganda for the campaign (during council meetings). We have reviewed different laws that have been considered and that’s exactly what we were asked to do.”

Rosell, a political science professor at Boston University, has never been reimbursed, but said he believes strongly in the one-year immersion program.

“If we step down, then everyone on the council has to step down too,” she said. “People are either for or against bilingual education.”

Education Commissioner David Driscoll asked Tamayo last year to resign from the council over the potential conflict. Tamayo resigned as chairman, but with a unanimous vote of his peers, remained on the council.

Yesterday, Driscoll spokeswoman Heidi Perlman said, “This is not a council with policy-making ability. As far as the commissioner is concerned, he doesn’t see it as an issue.”

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