Next year’s Seattle schools budget is short of money for students who need help learning English.
That’s what more than a dozen immigrants mainly from Southeast Asian nations told the Seattle School Board at a budget hearing last night – although at almost $ 10.3 million, the money earmarked for what’s called transitional bilingual education for the 1995-1996 school year is about the same as this year.
Nevertheless, due to inflation, schools Superintendent William Kendrick has proposed cutting the bilingual-education staff by four people to 203.
Overall, the $ 317.3 million budget Kendrick has drafted for next year is $ 10 million short of continuing all services at this year’s levels. A total of 185 jobs have been cut, including about 70 teachers and 30 administrators.
Lack of English instruction means “you are setting our children up to fail,” said Thanh Nguyen, a Vietnamese parent speaking through a translator. Explaining that his English was insufficient to help his youngster with homework, Nguyen added “I am depending on you to teach my kid.”
For several speakers, the district’s failure to increase funding for English instruction was a breach of faith with the immigrant groups. Less than three months ago, they agreed to drop a lawsuit against the district in exchange for promises that programs for youngsters with limited ability in English would be beefed up.
“Until this moment I have not seen anything from the agreement implemented,” said Thinh Nguyen, also speaking through a translator.
Khamkeo Winslow, representing a coalition of Laotian immigrant groups, said immigrants “will seek other avenues,” such as another lawsuit if there is no progress.
Others called for after-school and summer programs as well, to help the children of immigrants learn English and avoid the temptation of gangs.
Such programs would help, agreed board member Don Nielsen after the hearing. But the district would have to look to the city, state or federal governments for funding, he said.
Looking at a variety of dropout prevention and tutoring programs the district does offer, social activist Joe Garcia suggested that private nonprofit agencies would do a better job and the $ 1.6 million expenditure should be put out to bid.
Overall, Kendrick’s budget has drawn little fire despite the superintendent’s proposed staff cuts, which are for the most part scattered throughout the system.
Earlier plans to cut several programs deeply had parents up in arms but state budget cuts were not as deep as anticipated and Kendrick was able to back off.
The School Board intends to pass a final version of the budget next Wednesday.