It’s in their own backyard, yet only 86 teachers from Denver Public Schools have registered for the National Association for Bilingual Education conference starting Jan. 27 in Denver.

And the district, which is under federal pressure to beef up its bilingual programs, isn’t dipping into its piggy bank to pay the teachers’ registration fees, either. While the district gave teachers a day off to go, it could not afford to send all or most of the 700-plus bilingual teachers.

It was up to the individual schools to pay to send teachers to the conference. Some did; others didn’t. Some teachers even paid the fee themselves.

“It’s another wasted opportunity,” DPS board member Bennie Milliner said. “We have to be more forward-thinking and see how these types of opportunities can benefit us.”

Conversely, the Greeley school district will have more than 241 people at the conference and is paying the entire tab from the school district general fund.

“This is one of, if not the best professional development that we thought we could provide for a large number of our teachers,” said Jorge Garcia, Greeley’s coordinator of bilingual education. “There are so many leaders in national and world research on the issue of bilingual education. We could never find so many top quality presenters and materials in one location.”

Commerce City, a much smaller school district than Denver, has registered 75 teachers, principals and administrators. Adams 50 in Westminster had preregistered 50 people. Even Eagle-Vail is sending 35 people. Those districts couldn’t be reached for comment on whether they’ll pay for their teachers to attend.

The Dallas school district, while larger than Denver, hosted the event last year, and more than 1,000 teachers, principals and other school officials took part, said Kathy Escamilla, co-chair of the event.

She expected similar participation from Denver, especially since no travel plans or hotel accommodations are needed.

“It’s disappointing,” Escamilla said. “We’ve tried to make positive steps and outreach to Denver.”

An estimated 7,000 people from throughout the country are expected to attend the conference Jan. 27-30. It is an opportunity for teachers, principals and other school officials to receive training in bilingual education and to meet others who have implemented successful bilingual education programs, organizers said. Budget constraints

Jose Perea, director of the Denver bilingual education program, said that the district already requires 150 hours of training for most bilingual teachers once they enter DPS and that they also receive additional training after that.

“It’s a budget issue,” Perea said. “There simply was not enough money to provide that for them to attend.”

The idea of the district paying registration fees for all its bilingual teachers was briefly discussed at a board work session late last year, but the idea was dismissed because of budget considerations.

The cost for teachers to attend the four days is $ 295, or they can sign up for individual days at $ 125 a day.

Despite the cost, DPS board member Elaine Berman was disappointed that fewer than 100 teachers had registered.

“The board decided not to do this primarily for financial reasons and in my opinion, that might have been short-sighted because of this incredible opportunity for first-rate professional development for our teachers,” Berman said. Bilingual controversy

Greeley’s Garcia said he is sending to the conference the staffs of four entire schools that are switching to a Spanish-English dual-language curriculum
this year. Denver was selected as a host site partly because Colorado was one
of the first states to receive federal funding for bilingual education, Escamilla said, but also because of the controversy surrounding DPS and bilingual education.

The district, which is about 50 percent Hispanic, is currently being investigated by the federal government, which found last year that DPS had violated federal law by not adequately teaching students who speak little or no English.

Although a settlement is near, the issue has polarized DPS officials and the Hispanic community.

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