Bilingual teachers in demand

Garland district backs $ 3,000 annual stipend

GARLAND – Garland school district officials said they will begin offering a $ 3,000 annual stipend to fully certified bilingual teachers in an attempt to double the number of those instructors this fall.

District officials said there is a serious shortage of qualified applicants, which is why only 51 of the district’s 155 bilingual education instructors are fully certified by the state. That number could increase to 100 by the next school year if the plan is successful, district officials said.

School board President Steve Hill said the stipend is another step by the Garland Independent School District to attract bilingual teachers.

“We want to be competitive with our neighboring districts,” he said. “We’ve explored a lot of other avenues, and they simply haven’t worked.”

Tony Torres, president of the Garland Hispanic Coalition, said the district’s decision is long overdue. Other districts have been offering stipends for years.

“At least it will give us a competitive posture, but we’re 10 years too late,” he said. “People weren’t even looking at us when they could go to another district and get a few thousand dollars more.”

Mr. Torres’ organization filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education in 1997 about shortcomings in the district’s bilingual program. The complaint targeted the lack of certified bilingual teachers who spoke Spanish.

Mr. Hill said the decision by the district on Thursday is unrelated to the complaint filed with the federal government.

For bilingual teachers who are not certified by the state, the district is also considering a plan that would pay about $ 3,000 of the $ 3,900 cost of fast-track certification through the regional service centers of the Texas Education Agency. The district has hired dozens of teachers during the last few years who are still studying for their bilingual certification.

Mr. Hill said the district offered a performance-based bonus to bilingual teachers about four years ago and recently stepped up its recruitment efforts. That wasn’t enough.

At least 10 Dallas-area school districts already offer annual stipends for certified bilingual teachers, ranging from $ 2,000 in Denton to $ 4,000 in Frisco, according to an informal survey by Garland school officials. At least two districts, Carrollton-Farmers Branch and McKinney, offer $ 1,500 stipends for bilingual teachers who are not certified.

Assistant Superintendent Deborah Cron said the competition among districts is fierce for the small number of bilingual teachers available. There are far more jobs available than teachers, she said.

A study a few years ago showed that there weren’t enough bilingual teachers graduating from Texas colleges to fill all bilingual positions in just the Dallas Independent School District, Dr. Cron said. She said the Garland school board previously rejected stipends for bilingual teachers but that there are few other options to attract certified instructors.

“We simply cannot keep pace with the needs,” she said. “The stipend itself might not be a magic bullet, but it should allow us to compete with our fellow districts.”

Mr. Torres agreed that teacher pay is only part of the solution. He said the Garland school district must put more resources into the bilingual program and ensure that the teachers will have a chance to move into administrative positions.

“These are baby steps,” he said. “Hopefully, we can overcome some of the inertia and take even bigger steps.”

Staff writer Jeff Mosier can be reached at 972-278-7478 and at [email protected]

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