CAMARILLO—County school officials have decided to continue paying for bilingual teacher training and recruitment, despite concerns that the programs go against the will of local voters who approved Proposition 227.
After several Ventura County educators voiced support for bilingual programs at a meeting Tuesday morning, trustees decided to set aside about $ 230,000 in state funds.
Without the money, the educators argued, the county could face a shortage of qualified teachers and be forced to hire those ill-equipped to instruct the 27,000 county students who speak limited English.
“The programs will be watered down, the teachers won’t be as effective with their students, and the kids will lose,” said Cliff Rodrigues, county director of bilingual education.
But such bilingual support programs may be safe for only one more year, said Marty Bates, county school board president. He advised districts to devise ways to access the state funds directly and warned that the county board will give “serious consideration” to not applying for the money next year.
“Based on Proposition 227, to spend money on the training and recruitment of bilingual teachers doesn’t make sense to me,” Bates said Tuesday afternoon. “Next year, the districts better be prepared to drastically reduce or eliminate them.”
The two programs targeted were the bilingual teacher recruitment and the bilingual teacher training project. The first pays tuition and books for students pursuing careers in education at local colleges. The second pays for districts to provide cultural and language classes required to certify bilingual teachers.
Rodrigues said both programs are crucial in a county where one-fifth of the students speak limited English.
“The need is there for teachers who understand other languages,” he said. “Proposition 227 didn’t take any of that need away.”
And that need may well increase as the Latino population continues to grow countywide.
Rodrigues stressed the importance of teachers able to communicate with parents who themselves speak limited English, with or without bilingual education.
One year after voters passed Proposition 227–designed to dismantle bilingual education–bilingual programs are still going strong in most districts in Ventura County. In fact, only a few districts–including Santa Paula and Fillmore–eliminated all their bilingual classes.
After one month of intensive English language instruction, school officials in Ventura, Port Hueneme and Oxnard reinstated their bilingual classes by using an exemption that allowed parents to submit waivers to keep their children out of English-only classes.
While the initiative set guidelines for how schools should teach students who speak limited English, it did not address the issues of teacher preparation and certification. So now, as the school year comes to an end, districts are still grappling with how to structure training programs in light of the new law.
“Proposition 227 is silent on teacher preparation,” said Margaret Olebe, a consultant with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which is responsible for licensing the state’s teachers.
Olebe said districts are required to abide by existing law that mandates students be taught by properly certified teachers and defines how to train those teachers.
Ventura County’s recruitment program, budgeted at about $ 163,000, helps students who might not be able to afford a college education, Rodrigues said. After receiving their teaching credentials, many graduates take positions at schools in the county. Currently, the county is providing money to 31 students at Cal State Northridge’s Ventura campus, 25 of whom have emergency credentials and are teaching in local classrooms. The county is also funding students at other nearby universities.
“Without the money, that bottom would fall out and the support college students need would be gone,” he said.
The training program, budgeted at about $ 67,000, enables districts to offer classes on English language structure, teaching English as a second language, and culture and cultural diversity. Teachers are required to take the classes to receive their credentials to teach students who speak little or no English.
David Lopez, assistant superintendent for the Rio School District, called the training programs vital.
“Without them, we wouldn’t be able to produce the kind of teachers we have in the Rio School District,” he said.
Supt. Joseph Spirito of the Ventura Unified School District agreed.
“These teachers need all the help they can get, and the only way they can get that help is if you pass this budget,” he said.
Art Hernandez, a trustee in the Oxnard Union High School District, told county trustees that they need to give districts time to secure funding on their own if they decide to refuse state funding.
Districts might also work together to apply for funding, county schools Supt. Charles Weis said.
If there is not enough time, districts could be in a crunch when it came to recruiting and training bilingual teachers, Hernandez said.
“What we need is time,” he said. “This is something we need to discuss.”
Hamm is a Times Community News reporter, and Gorman is a Times staff writer.