The state is taking the first steps toward changing bilingual education- and may sweep the program out completely, education officials said yesterday.

“It’s a disaster,” said John R. Silber, chairman of the state Board of Education. “We’re spending a tremendous amount of money on a program that doesn’t work.”

Some of the changes would allow larger class sizes, end the requirement for parent councils to advise school districts and speed up the time students spend in classes where English isn’t spoken.

Bilingual advocates took the floor at yesterday’s Board of Education meeting to castigate the Education Department for the changes.

“We protest this underhanded way of undermining the law,” said Maria Perez-Selles, president of the Massachusetts Association for Bilingual Education.

The board has yet to take final action on the proposed changes.

Also yesterday, the board took its first steps aimed at speedily taking over “educationally bankrupt” school districts.

The board gave Education Commissioner Robert V. Antonucci the go-ahead to propose ways to oust incompetent school officials and allow a state takeover much faster than the two-year warning the state now gives.

Officials said the new regulations would let the state take fast action on the Lawrence schools, if the high school loses its accreditation next month and a state audit points up mismanagement.

“We should be able to intervene in a much faster time,” said board member William Irwin. “In Lawrence, they had 10 years of warnings.”

At the same meeting, a key group of school superintendents lobbied for stricter controls on special education.

“The increased cost for special education is seriously compromising regular education programs and the goals of education reform,” the Massachusetts Assocation of School Superintendents warned in a report.

Over the past five years, special education costs have soared, and now threaten to overshadow regular education, the superintendents reported.

The influential group called for the state to tighten the definition of a child who needs special education. And because a special education student cannot be kicked out of school – even if he breaks the law – the group said the law has created a double standard.

“Those who are special needs students are treated differently than those who are not, even though the violation may be exactly the same,” the superintendents said.

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