Bilingual-education flap a step closer to ballot
DMultiple-issue argument rejected by review panel

John Sanko
Denver Rocky Mountain News
Thursday, December 6, 2001

Former Denver school board member Rita Montero and other critics of Colorado's bilingual-education program took a giant step forward Wednesday in getting their fight to the state's voters.

On a 2-1 vote, a three-member review panel rejected the argument that the proposed ballot measure included more than one issue and therefore violated the Colorado Constitution.

The panel approved the language for two ballot measures. One eliminates the current bilingual program, replaces it with English immersion and puts penalties in place for violators. The other does the same, but includes a $5 million tutorial program.

Montero and supporters must collect 80,571 signatures of qualified voters to make the ballot in November 2002.

Montero said after the hearing she was pleased with the action, but opponents pledged the battle is far from over.

Gully Stanford, co-chair of English Plus, a group formed to fight the measure, said he would file a petition immediately for a rehearing.

And if that fails, he will challenge the measure before the Colorado Supreme Court. The high court kept a similar proposal off the ballot in 2000, when it ruled the constitution's single-issue provision had been violated.

"This is the wrong solution in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Stanford, a state board of education member. "Everyone in our coalition believes that English must be taught and learned, but this constitutional amendment almost assures it cannot."

Montero and other supporters of the ballot measure were optimistic, though, that it would clear the remaining hurdles and get enough signatures to make the ballot.

Their attorney, Tom Lyons, voiced no objections to the approved ballot language. It is "fair, clear and accurate," he told the board.

"I'm pleased with it," Montero said afterward. "Unfortunately, the title is very long. But I understand it's a requirement brought about as the result of the courts wanting it to be more inclusive and make sure there is enough information to give the voter an extensive idea of what it's about."

Opponents of the ballot measure said they were still convinced it violated the one-issue rule.

Critics objected not only to the $5 million tutorial program as a second issue. But they said another issue involved the penalties to be imposed on any school district employee or school board member who refuse to follow its dictates -- no pay, removal from office and a ban on holding any position of authority within Colorado government or public schools for five years.

Beverly Ausfahl, a co-chair of the opposing group and former president of the Colorado Education Association, said the measure flies in the face of another constitutional edict -- local control of school districts.