Bilingual Teachers May Face Cut in Extra Pay

Education: Proposition 227 has made the $5,000 annual bonus unnecessary, critics say. Union supports the differential but could use it as bargaining chip.

Hefty pay differentials for certified bilingual teachers should be slashed, possibly even eliminated, because their intent has been undermined by the state’s anti-bilingual education law, according to Los Angeles public school administrators.

In what could become a pivotal issue in bargaining talks with the powerful United Teachers–Los Angeles union, the
$ 20-million differential program is being regarded as a potential source of funds to pay for the district’s $ 70-
million plan to end social promotion and for the union’s call for a 6% raise next year.

About 4,000 teachers receive the annual $ 5,000 bonus under a decade-old effort funded by the Los Angeles Unified School District’s student integration program. Now,
since the passage of Proposition 227 in 1998, about 2,600 teach English-immersion classes in which up to 70% of the content can be provided in the students’ primary language.

“The stipends successfully attracted many new qualified bilingual teachers to the district who were in short supply,”
said Associate Supt. Carmen Schroeder, who co-authored the master plan that gave birth to the salary increase.

“But things have changed since then; we have fewer bilingual classrooms, and about 22,000 bilingual students,”
she said. “So this may be an appropriate time to reevaluate the program.”

The 40,000-member teachers union, although officially supportive of the differential, could use it as a bargaining chip in salary talks. However, portending a separate battle within union ranks, members of the union’s vocal bilingual committee have vowed reprisals against union leaders who attempt to reduce the stipends.

The Los Angeles Board of Education and union leaders are expected to weigh the merits of the differentials and decide their ultimate fate in the final phase of salary negotiations early next summer.

But the internal union division on the issue could dash hopes of entering bargaining talks with a unified front.

On one side are instructors such as ninth-grade high school teacher Doug Lasken, a reading specialist for the Los Angeles County office of education who steadfastly maintains that the differentials “aren’t justified when you take into account Proposition 227, which mandates English immersion.”

“I’ve never met a teacher in favor of those stipends who wasn’t receiving one,” Lasken said. “But after Proposition 227, it’s hard to see any point to them at all. The fair thing would be to put them into a pot toward any salary increase the teachers are going to get.”

Then too, he pointed out, Los Angeles is among a mere handful of districts statewide that offer pay differentials to certified bilingual teachers. “If the other districts get along without them, we can too,” he said.

Not so, said Tom Louie, a fourth-grade teacher and member of the union’s bilingual committee, which supports the differential program launched in 1989 as part of an effort to meet the needs of burgeoning populations of limited-
English speaking students.

“We’re very concerned about people not getting stipends who should and bureaucrats in and out of the union saying,
‘Don’t give them out anymore,’ ” said Louie, a recipient of the stipend.

“But we have a pretty militant committee; mess with us at your peril,” he said. “We are prepared to fight for our interests.”

In the middle of the debate are teachers such as second-
grade English immersion teacher Letty Ochoa, who conceded, “I never thought the differentials would last forever, and I never depended on them. It was a bonus.”

Now, Ochoa, who spent years earning the credentials that make her eligible for the differentials, said she is prepared to lose them.

Sitting at her desk in a classroom covered with colorful posters of nature scenes and lists of English words meant to explain spelling, alliteration and rhyme, Ochoa said, “I do use Spanish a lot in my class. I answer questions in class,
make telephone calls and conduct parent-teacher conferences in the language.”

“But hey, the district could survive without the differentials,” she said. “And if I do get that cut in pay,
maybe I’ll get a new job closer to my home.”

For now, the union’s official position on the matter is reflected in its core negotiation package: The differentials should be preserved.

A majority of board members has promised to take a hard look at the differential program, which was born in an era of tight budgets and concerns that Latino children faced bleak futures unless public school systems offered role models and teachers who could communicate with them.

“Today, we’re in an era of more dramatic resources in public education–and a changed political environment,” said school board member David Tokofsky. “This board is dedicated to finding ways in which we can attract and retain the teaching force we need through salary increases.”

Board member Victoria Castro, who strongly supported bilingual education, agreed, but to a point.

“I believe if you call upon a bilingual person to do added work, they should be compensated for it,” she said. “But I’m also open to a review of the amount of that compensation.

“My concern is that if we eliminate the compensation altogether,” she said, “we may lose those teachers to other districts that respect their skills, and fail to meet our students’ academic needs.”

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