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California and the West

Texas Tries to Lure Away Teachers

Bilingual education: After Prop. 227 victory, school district with growing Spanish-speaking population is sending recruiters to California.

June 05, 1998|LIZ SEYMOUR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the wake of Proposition 227's passage, a Texas school district is sending recruiters to Southern California to hire away bilingual teachers.

"This is a wonderful opportunity both for the teachers . . . and for this district," said Mac Bernd, superintendent of the Arlington Independent School District.

Bernd, a former Orange County school superintendent, said the idea came to him while reading newspaper accounts Thursday about the statewide ballot measure, which essentially dismantles bilingual instruction in California classrooms. It was approved by 61% of the voters in Tuesday's election.

Bernd's district in Texas plans to send six officials to Southern California June 15 to 17, interviewing teachers in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. Bernd was superintendent of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District for four years before moving to Arlington in January.

The Arlington schools hope to hire an estimated 20 bilingual teachers and nearly 25 teachers of English as a second language to handle a rising population of Spanish-speaking students. About 54,500 students are enrolled in schools in Arlington, a growing suburb equidistant from Dallas and Fort Worth. Latino students account for 18% of the student population, double the percentage of a decade ago.

"We figure that there will be so many displaced teachers in California, maybe we can entice a few out here," said Charlene Robertson, a spokeswoman for Arlington schools.

Some educators speculated that other school districts outside California might follow Arlington's lead.

"It makes sense if you need those teachers, you will come to a source that has them," said Day Higuchi, union president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which opposed Proposition 227.

In Arlington, teacher salaries start at $26,900 a year, Robertson said, with an average of $33,304 annually. That is lower than the $32,000 starting salary of a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher. The average Los Angeles salary is $45,924, Higuchi said, not including the $2,500 or $5,000 pay differentials given to bilingual instruction teachers.

The cost of living is lower in Texas, however, and the salaries might be high enough to draw teachers who are committed to bilingual instruction, Higuchi said.

"There is a high likelihood that they will go somewhere else because the new law says you cannot teach it at all," Higuchi said.

A spokesman for another teachers group that vehemently opposed Proposition 227 said California teachers probably would not leave in large numbers.

"I don't really want to say anything bad about Texas, but Southern California is the place where the teaching of recent immigrant students is the most dynamic of any place in the country," said Steve Zimmer, an organizer of the teachers group On Campus. The Los Angeles-based coalition of bilingual and English as a second language teachers has gathered 1,500 pledges from teachers to continue bilingual instruction despite the proposition's passage.

Educators also pointed out that with California's current shortage of teachers, employed teachers probably would not be looking for a job.

Officials in Bernd's previous school district in California said they don't expect to lose their bilingual teachers to schools in Texas or any other state.

"They're committed to teaching these kids whatever way we're told to by the state," said James M. Ferryman, school board president of Newport-Mesa schools.

But he was impressed by Bernd's savvy. "He doesn't miss a beat, does he?" Ferryman said.

* BILINGUAL EDUCATION: Panel votes to limit participation in federally aided programs. A27

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