Conflict cited on bilingual panel

Parents fight ballot initiative

A group of parents wants an inquiry into a possible conflict of interest involving two people who hold seats on a state advisory council on bilingual education while being paid to lead a ballot initiative that would scrap bilingual education in Massachusetts.

The group of 14 parents expects to file complaints today with the state attorney general’s office, and the office of campaign and political finance. The parents are part of Leave No Child Behind, a group formed to fight the ballot question.

The parents allege that Rosalie P. Porter and Lincoln Tamayo are receiving funds from the group English for the Children of Massachusetts, which backs a state ballot question to dismantle bilingual education programs, while serving on the 13-member bilingual education council, which advises the Department of Education.

According to state campaign finance reports, Porter was reimbursed $1,000 in expenses and Tamayo got $17,000 in consulting fees from Ron Unz, the California millionaire who is helping bankroll the ballot initiative here. The parents say such payments influence the views of both members.

The bilingual education council has pro-bilingual education members, but the parents point out that they aren’t paid by a political campaign.

”I don’t think the objection to Ron Unz’s people is that they’re antibilingual education as much as it is that they’re Ron Unz’s people,” parent Ingrid Nava of Roslindale said. ”We can have an honest debate. … But it can’t be played out when you don’t know who you’re fighting, or where they’re coming from.”

This is the second complaint in a week filed by Leave No Child Behind, which last year raised just $800 to Unz’s $271,000, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. Nava said that the disparity has left Leave No Child Behind searching for ways to battle Unz, who financed similar ballot initiatives in California and Arizona.

Porter dismissed the complaint, saying she is helping run the ballot campaign at no charge and only received reimbursements for expenses. And Tamayo, the former principal of Chelsea High School, noted that most of the other panel members are school employees who make their living from bilingual education.

”Rather than advocate for a system that has failed generations of immigrant students, the Leave No Child Behind organization has chosen to come up with one specious and inconsequential claim after another,” Tamayo said.

The parents’ three-page letter asks officials to investigate whether Porter and Tamayo’s presence on the panel violates laws that prohibit political advocacy on state committees. Although Porter and Tamayo’s views match Unz’s, they say they do not promote the Unz campaign while serving on the council, whose final meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

In November, Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll raised concerns about having Tamayo chair the panel. But after meeting with Driscoll, Tamayo agreed to give up his chairmanship and the council decided not to take a position on the Unz question. Those decisions satisfied Driscoll, who said he does not mind Porter and Tamayo sitting on the council if they do not use it as a political platform, which they haven’t, Department of Education spokeswoman Heidi B. Perlman said.

”On an advisory council, you want a diversity of perspectives. On this council, you definitely have that,” Perlman said.

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