NOGALES, Ariz. – Nogales’ school superintendent for eight years is out of a job when his contract expires June 30.

The Nogales Unified School District Governing Board voted 3-2 yesterday to start a national search to replace Superintendent Raul Bejarano. On Monday, the board voted 3-2 against renewing Bejarano’s contract.

Bejarano said the main reason for his ouster is the board’s desire for higher test scores and English-only instruction, which the district has increased in the past few years.

Since 1992, Bejarano, a 30-year employee and Nogales native, has led the U.S.-Mexico border district, where 80 percent of students have limited English skills.

The three board members who voted not to continue Bejarano’s contract are not commenting publicly about his termination.

Board President Hector Arana refused to comment yesterday, instead referring a reporter to videotapes of meetings. The tapes were unavailable for viewing yesterday afternoon.

Board member Barbara Mendoza refused to comment. Board member Frank Morales did not return repeated phone calls and left quickly after yesterday’s meeting.

Yesterday, about 50 people attended the board meeting to support Bejarano – and gave him a standing ovation. Speakers included bilingual education opponents who still back Bejarano as an administrator, said Analizabeth Doan, the district’s bilingual education director.

Advocates of bilingual education said Bejerano’s termination is the latest sign of anti-bilingual education sentiment in Arizona, home to some of the oldest – and some model – bilingual programs. A Tucson-based group is now collecting signatures for a November ballot measure to eliminate bilingual education, following California’s lead in 1998.

“There’s a big push from California to do away with bilingual education,” said board member Juby Bell, who voted to retain Bejarano. “It’s just getting here.”

Nogales’ bilingual programs have been in the spotlight statewide because of a recent federal court ruling on a case brought by Nogales parents against the state. In January, a federal judge ruled that the state is skimping on funding for those programs.

In the past few years, the district has moved away from bilingual instruction – which teaches children in their native language while gradually transitioning to more and more English. Now, just 5 percent of 6,000 students are enrolled in bilingual classes in three schools. The rest are in a variety of English as a Second Language programs, which uses English-only instruction geared to their language level.

Bejarano said he honored the decisions made by each school’s site council to select a program, required under federal and state law to serve students with limited English proficiency. But he said the board thought he was too slow in bringing about English-only programs.

“We have moved quite a distance in improving those programs, forcing more English on a daily basis,” said Bejarano, who has a poster from a bilingual education conference in his office.

“At the same time, we are taking into consideration . . . that they need some instruction in their home language.”

Parents have the right to pull their children out of bilingual programs, but no one has asked to do so this year, Doan said.

Doan said the board is backing English-only instruction despite results showing that bilingual education yields better results. For example, 3 percent of students in English-only programs mastered enough English to qualify for mainstream classes, compared to 12 percent of bilingual education students.

Bejarano said Nogales schools – with or without bilingual education – produce below-average test scores.

Still, the district’s Stanford 9 scores are rising. Last year, seven of 12 grades boosted their scores in reading and math. On Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards, Nogales sophomores performed better than the state average on writing and math.

The two board members who support Bejarano said they believe other factors besides bilingual education contributed to his ouster.

“I think (bilingual education is) the primary issue that these people are hiding behind to get rid of him,” Bell said.

Board member Manuel Ruiz said that fellow board members often talk about their disdain for bilingual education but that he was unsure why they wanted to oust Bejarano. Ruiz, who was on the board that named Bejarano as superintendent, favors keeping bilingual education.

“We need to have programs in place to meet the needs of our diverse population,” Ruiz said.

Parent Manuel Trujillo, the co-chair of Bracker Elementary School’s site council, said he stands behind Bejarano as a superintendent, even though he personally opposes bilingual education.

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