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Programs for Non-English Speakers OKd : Education: But the Long Beach school board is criticized for not going far enough.

December 13, 1990|ROXANA KOPETMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — The school board has unanimously approved 28 proposals designed to help non-English-speaking students in city schools but postponed a decision on some of the costlier programs, such as higher pay for bilingual teachers.

The Board of Education decided, for example, to require all schools to develop comprehensive plans to meet the needs of its non-English-speaking students. Until now, the schools have offered a hodgepodge of programs that often lack continuity from one grade level to the next.

But the Monday vote was criticized by local Latino and Asian leaders, who said the board did not go far enough.

"We're greatly disappointed," said Ding-Jo Currie, chairwoman of the Asian Education Advisory Committee, one of several organizations that worked with educators last summer to draw up a sweeping multimillion-dollar master plan for helping non-English-speaking students in the district. District administrators used the committee's plan as a basis for their own proposal.

Board members, however, pointed out that the vote represented only the first step toward creating a coordinated plan of programs for the 20,194 students whose first language is not English.

Administrators with the Long Beach Unified School District said they will continue to review additional programs, including the more expensive propositions, and bring them back before the board for a vote next May.

Superintendent Tom Giugni said he was "mind-boggled" by the criticism.

Other proposals approved by the board Monday include:

* Developing a program to encourage bilingual non-teaching personnel to become bilingual teachers. Employees might receive stipends for taking teaching courses. This recommendation carries no price tag for the first year, and its cost has not been determined for 1991-92.

* Using bilingual-education aides instead of part-time college aides. Bilingual aides are considered part-time employees who have a long-term commitment to education. They are more costly than the college aides, who, as temporary employees, do not receive benefits. This recommendation--the most expensive program approved by the board--is expected to cost $220,000.

* Creating a committee to plan at least two activities for parents of students who are not proficient in English, at a cost of $5,000 annually.

* Forming a committee to decide how to test teachers' and staff members' proficiency in foreign languages.

* Starting a center to help new immigrant students with very limited proficiency in English. The newcomer center would be established at a middle school or high school, at a cost of between $22,000 and $44,000 for 1991-92.

Martha Estrada, head of the Program Assistance for Language Minority Students, said she and other officials have been working on many of the 28 proposals in anticipation that they would be approved. "Many of them, if not most of them, are in some stage of development," Estrada said.

During the 1990-91 school year, the district expects to receive close to $7 million in state money to pay for most of the programs.

But community leaders sharply criticized the board Monday for not adopting all of the recommendations the committee proposed last summer.

Alan Lowenthal, president of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, called the plan approved Monday "incomplete."

Cambodian community leader Neil Hul told the board that what happens in the schools affects society in general. "Do you want to see (students) as vagabonds, roaming the streets in gangs?" he asked.

A number of Latino mothers, speaking in Spanish, also pleaded with the board to support the plan in full. "We're very worried," Alicia Hernandez told the board. "We expect your help. If we don't have it from you, I don't know what we're going to do."

Giugni and the district's attorney, Theodore A. Buckley, warned that the board could expose the district to legal liability by approving projects that it could not realistically pursue. Buckley told the board it should not "agree to do the impossible."

In a letter to the board, Jerome Torres, chairman of the Hispanic Advisory Committee, expressed outrage over Buckley's concerns. "What the Board of Education should be concerned with is that if it fails to act in an effective and equitable manner, it will be confronted with legal action, which could prove costly to all," Torres wrote.

Committee members are angry that the board postponed its consideration of other proposals, which include spending more than $1 million annually to reduce class size in classes designed for non-English speakers.

Another sticking point is a pay differential for bilingual teachers. Latino leaders argue that there is no incentive for bilingual teachers to stay in Long Beach when they can go to neighboring districts, such as Los Angeles Unified, which pays an extra $5,000 a year.

"Aren't you interested in recruitment of bilingual teachers? This plan says that you're not," said Dan Torres, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Long Beach chapter.

But board members emphasized that the stipend is a negotiable item with the teachers' union, which has traditionally opposed such pay differentials.

Felice Strauss, president of the Teachers Assn. of Long Beach, called the master plan urged by Latino and Asian leaders "the Cadillac plan. . . . in a year when teachers received a 2.73% salary increase and $10 million was cut to balance the budget."

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