OAKLAND—The Oakland school district, facing the threat of a $ 4 million funding freeze from state and federal officials, is promising to fix its troubled bilingual programs by June 1999.
The school board is expected to approve a memorandum of understanding tonight with the federal Office of Civil Rights and the state that outlines how the district will meet commitments it made four years ago to reform its educational programs for the 17,000 Oakland students — a third of its student body — who aren’t fluent in English.
The district is chronically short of bilingual teachers, textbooks and other learning materials. Many students are in classes where long-term substitutes don’t speak their language. Oakland’s bilingual ”graduation” rate — the number of students who become fluent in English — is below the state average.
Under the agreement, the district would spend $ 335,000 on five new positions. Half that money would go toward new administrators, in a district that teachers and others have criticized for being top-heavy with bureaucrats.
The budget includes $ 85,000 for a high school director concentrating on bilingual education and $ 60,000 for a program evaluator. A total of $ 130,000 would go for two advisers who would work with schools to make sure they are staffed properly and complete paperwork. Some $ 60,000 would be spent for a teacher on special assignment who would work with the two high schools with the most bilingual students, Fremont and Oakland High.
Some skeptical parents question how creating those jobs will help recruit bilingual teachers to Oakland at a time when they are in demand statewide.
Associate Superintendent Terry Mazany said money is being spent on administrative positions because, ”The type of work needed is administrative. Someone has to make sure the home surveys and testing of limited-English students is done and numerous other tasks. They will be doing an inventory of the staffing needs in each language area at each school in January so we can start working to find teachers for next year.”
Mazany has been closely involved in the negotiations with state and federal officials since July, when the Office of Civil Rights and state Department of Education told Oakland they were running out of patience. Oakland entered into its original compliance agreement in December 1993 after a lengthy battle that included nine parents suing the district in 1984, alleging the schools had not provided an equal education for language-minority students.
The district’s latest promises come as frustration is growing among Latino parents and community leaders about how their children are treated and educated. Latinos make up one-fifth of students in Oakland and a little more than half the limited-English students.
”There has not been an organized effort or push among the city’s Latino community to try to resolve the problems facing our students. We are trying to change that,” said Josefina Alvarado, an attorney with Centro Legal de La Raza in Oakland, a legal and community services agency.
Some of the Latino leaders have criticized Oakland’s bilingual programs, but their focus is much broader than that. They met with Superintendent Carole Quan yesterday to discuss their concerns.
The Latino leaders say there are too few Latino students in Oakland’s gifted programs in contrast to their high dropout rate. Some state estimates say as many as 45 percent of California’s Latino students in grades seven through 12 leave school before graduating.
They also say Oakland has too few high-level Latino administrators compared with other ethnic groups. State figures show that 8 percent of officials and managers in the Oakland Unified School District in 1996 were Latino, although 20 percent of its student body was Latino. Fifty-eight percent were African American (53 percent of the students were African American), 24 percent white (7 percent of students) and 10 percent were Asian American (18 percent of the students).
Alvarado and others, including the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, have resurrected a dormant Latino Education Task Force established in 1992 to try to turn around student performance and the hiring numbers.