Denver School Board members want to hold a forum in which they would hear the pros and cons of supporting a ballot initiative that would require English-language learners to be taught in English.

But only if the “pro” side is represented by Ron Unz.

Unz, a California millionaire, is the financial backer of the proposed Colorado constitutional amendment that would virtually eliminate bilingual education. The initiative calls for at least some instruction in an English-language-learner’s native tongue.

Former Denver school board member Rita Montero chairs the initiative campaign.

Opponents were allowed to choose their own speaker, said opponent Gully Stanford.

Supporters were not.

“(Unz) was the author,” Denver school board president Elaine Berman said Tuesday. “That’s our reason.”

Unz wrote a similar initiative that California voters approved in 1998.

But Montero is the official author of the proposal on Colorado’s November ballot. Along with in-state supporters, Montero also created tough legal penalties for violating the initiative’s provisions. These penalties have been of special concern to the Denver board.

“It’s silly if they don’t want to talk to the person who was pretty much responsible for drafting the sections they are concerned about,” Unz said. “I suppose Rita could stand and pass me notes.”

Montero believes the board’s decision to support or oppose will be based not on information received at the forum, but on politics. And her political history has been less than smooth with at least four of seven members.

In 1999, Montero lost a contentious race to Lucia Guzman, who’s still on the board. Berman’s husband Stephen donated $250 to the Guzman campaign. Current member James Mejia donated $50.

Last fall, Montero said she would run against current member Les Woodward because she believed allowing him to run unopposed would send a mistaken message that the Denver board was doing a good job.

Berman denies politics played a role in choosing Unz over Montero. She notes Unz had been invited to represent the “pro” side at other forums.

Montero is free to attend the board’s 3:30 p.m. Wednesday forum at 900 Grant St., Berman said. But if she wants to speak, she must sign up alongside the general public for a comment that will be, at most, three minutes long.

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