Sonoma County voters appear much more divided than those throughout the state over an initiative to end most bilingual education programs.
Forty-nine percent of the county’s voters said they would vote for Proposition 227 to essentially do away with bilingual education, according to a Press Democrat poll conducted last month. Forty-three percent of those surveyed said they oppose the measure.
In comparison, last month’s Field Poll — using different wording — found that 66 percent of state voters said they would vote for the measure, with 27 percent opposed. Support rose to 70 percent in this month’s Field Poll, with 58 percent support in the Bay Area.
Richard Hertz, who conducted The Press Democrat Poll, said the difference in the results highlights the county’s political makeup.
“It’s quite a bit more liberal on issues and candidates than the rest of the state,” he said.
The poll results are based on telephone interviews with 501 randomly selected registered voters in Sonoma County. The poll was conducted Feb. 3-13 by Richard Hertz Consulting of Bodega Bay and has a margin of error of 4.7 percent. The different results of the two polls also could be due to different survey questions. The Field Poll, quoting the exact ballot language, said 227 “requires that all public school instruction be in English …” The Press Democrat Poll said 227 would “eliminate most bilingual education programs in California.”
Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll pointed out that both his survey question on 227 and the actual state ballot language never mention bilingual education.
“I found it interesting the word English is used four times in three sentences,” DiCamillo said of the ballot language. “To me, that’s what voters are reacting to.”
Supporters of 227 surveyed by The Press Democrat said they like the idea of students learning English.
“It’s my opinion that students should assimilate into the American environment as soon as possible and I support programs that do that in a reasonable time frame,” said Jere Jorgensen of Sebastopol.
Like many other voters, Jorgensen said he had yet to study the details of the initiative but felt he understood its aim. “It sounds like a good philosophy,” he said.
On the other side, Charles Ross, a Catholic high school teacher who participated in the survey, said he opposes the initiative because of the value of bilingual education.
“They can’t become competent in skills in our schools if they aren’t taught those skills in their native language,” said Ross, who teaches religion at St. Patrick/St. Vincent High School in Vallejo.
In the Field Poll, 61 percent of Latino voters said they would support the initiative, versus 34 percent opposed. Last month the numbers were much closer — 46 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed. Latinos remain less supportive than whites, blacks and Asians. The Press Democrat Poll did not break out Latino voter sentiment on the issue.
Interviews with Spanish-speaking parents in Santa Rosa yielded differing ideas on the best way to teach English learners.
“I would like to see mixed language instruction until sixth grade,” said Santos Mayo, who has a kindergartner at Lincoln School. “There are many children who come here when they are older and don’t understand a word of English. I think kids need more time to learn.”
Maria Avalos, who has a preschool-aged son, took a slightly different approach. “I want kids to be taught completely in Spanish in kindergarten and first grades,” she said. “From then on, they should be taught completely in English. We’re in a county where they need to speak English to survive.”
Maria Flores explained her support for English instruction by relating the experience of her 8-year-old son, who attended school in Penngrove before transferring to Lincoln School.
“When he began at Penngrove, he was taught completely in English,” Flores said. “He learned very quickly in English and I would help him translate some words into Spanish. I think it is a good idea when they enter kindergarten or first grade that they should be taught completely in English. They are ready and eager to learn.”
Regardless of the outcome of the vote on 227, Hertz expects Sonoma County will remain less supportive of the measure than the rest of the state.
The results were such with Proposition 187, which sought to deny services to undocumented residents. Sonoma County voters split almost evenly on the measure, which won 60-percent approval overall. And they were similar for Proposition 209, which proposed ending affirmative action for minorities and women. County voters passed the initiative by 51 percent to 49 percent, compared to a statewide result of 55 percent to 45 percent.
The county’s 241,000 registered voters breakdown as 52.6 percent Democrat and 30.5 percent Republican, with other parties and independents comprising the remainder. Of the state’s voters, 46.8 percent are Democrats and 36.2 percent are Republicans.
Staff writer Pamela J. Podger contributed to this report.