Faced with a Nov. 1 deadline, the El Monte City School District is struggling to comply with a state order to rectify its severe shortage of bilingual teachers or lose $3 million in supplementary state funds it gets for having a high percentage of students who speak little or no English or are academic underachievers.
The district--which serves 10,675 students in kindergarten through eighth grade in El Monte, South El Monte and Temple City--was told by the state Department of Education on Sept. 24 that it was violating state guidelines governing bilingual education by having less than half of the minimum 118 bilingual teachers required for its more than 3,000 limited-English-speaking students.
"We've been out of compliance forever," said Susan Bierman, the district's assistant superintendent of instruction.
"But we didn't know the full extent until we met with the state," Bierman said. "Instead of moving closer to compliance, we've been moving further away. We didn't know the situation would reach a crisis, but it did."
The $3 million represents 10% of the district's $30-million budget, said Jerry Buchanan, assistant district superintendent of business.
The state audited enrollment figures earlier this year to determine whether the district complied with a 1980 law that requires school districts to provide a bilingual class if they have 10 or more students who are classified as limited English proficiency (LEP). The classes must be provided for students who speak the same language and are in the same grade level.
The state found that the district, which is more than 60% Latino, should have at least 118 bilingual teachers, based on a formula that requires one bilingual teacher for every 20 LEP students.
The school already had 41 bilingual teachers, leaving the district 77 short, said Susie Lange, public relations director for the state Department of Education.
The district is going ahead with its effort to comply with state law despite Gov. George Deukmejian's veto last week of legislation that would have extended bilingual education programs until 1992.
The governor has ordered a study to determine the cost-effectiveness of bilingual programs and will re-extend them if they are found to be a workable method of teaching students who do not speak English.
"We're not looking for a quick, short fix," Bierman said. "I don't want to see the same problem surface next spring. By next September, I can see us 100% compliant."
The district is exploring several ways of rectifying the shortage, including enrolling teachers already on the payroll in courses that will lead to bilingual certification or pairing bilingual teachers with monolingual instructors.
"I don't see hiring new teachers as an option," Bierman said, citing budget constraints. She added that district officials favor bilingual training for teachers already on the payroll.
Bierman said that teachers who opt for bilingual training, dubbed "waivered teachers," may teach bilingual classes before they are certified but must be assisted by a bilingual aide.
"What we're looking at is hiring additional people as bilingual aides for the waivered teachers," she said. "We'll have to see how much money is available for this."
"El Monte got itself caught," said Chuck Acosta, bilingual education consultant for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
Whereas the state formerly had been lax in following up on letters sent to districts informing them of non-compliance, Acosta said, it now is aggressive in its monitoring.
Acosta said that one reason El Monte is having problems is because colleges do not require future teachers to take bilingual courses, which cover methodology, culture and language, to get teaching certificates.
Nor do bilingual teachers make more money, according to Ben Campos, director of state and federal projects and bilingual education for the El Monte district.
"Our present system doesn't provide any incentives to have teachers become bilingual," said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, president of the California Assn. for Bilingual Education.
"The whole system needs to be overhauled," she said. "There needs to be more support for the teachers who work an entire day, then go and sit for evening training classes."
Spiegel-Coleman said that her organization is working to establish an incentive program, which would include time off.
"We're very supportive of teachers on waiver, but we want to create an atmosphere of support, not stress," she said.
District officials met with representatives of the El Monte Elementary Teachers Assn. shortly after the order was received to discuss the problem, sparking rumors that the state might withhold the paychecks of teachers unwilling to sign up for bilingual training.
"To hear you might not get a paycheck is very frightening and produces anger, confusion and questions," said Susan Matchett, president of the 500-member teachers' union, which is affiliated with the California Teachers Assn.