Douglas schools cut elementary Spanish

MINDEN - Plans to eliminate the elementary school Spanish program will go before the Douglas County School Board 3:30 p.m. July 12 at Kingsbury Middle School.

The program, at all seven elementary schools in Douglas County for the past 10 years, is now considered "vulnerable," according to Sharla Hales, president of the school board.

"It's my understanding that when the strategic plan was first developed, the strategic-planning committee put a high priority on the opportunity for students to learn Spanish," Hales said. "To be bilingual is good for the job market."

According to Hales, however, this year's budget is tight.

"In Nevada, we are entirely dependent on the Legislature for our operating funds," she said. "Essentially, we don't have enough to operate in the same way this year. That being the case, we want to make up that difference."

Superintendent John Soderman said this isn't the only thing proposed to be cut.

"We're cutting every department by 10 percent and every school by 5 percent," he said. "We're also reducing field trips in the short term."

Soderman and Hales said the district was hit with many unexpected expenses, including buses purchased from Carpenter containing defective roofs. Those had to be retired earlier than expected, and the district could not be reimbursed because Carpenter went out of business in 1996.

Cutting the elementary Spanish program was based on some board members' opinions and results of a survey circulated through the district about three years ago, Soderman said.

"There was a number (of board members) who wanted it and a number who didn't support it, partly because of the time and pressure to do other things," he said. "It just isn't the best use of time, especially with having to address things like No Child Left Behind."

The seven Spanish teaching assistants were informed about the recommendation on the last day of school in June.

The last-minute announcement was because the Legislature didn't end until much later than expected so could not report budget numbers until then, Soderman said.

"We generally get an inkling in February or March for per-pupil funding," he said. "Our per-student funding is supposed to be about plus $40 a student, but it was minus $100 a student. We found that out in June. It was drastically different from anything we'd found out previously."

Gloria Porath, the Spanish teaching assistant at PiƱon Hills Elementary School for eight years, said she was devastated when she was told the program might be canceled.

"The last day of school we went to a meeting at 2 o'clock," Porath said. "They told us, 'We have news for you - you have no job anymore.'

"We didn't have the chance to say good-bye to anybody. I was really sad. I have dedicated so much time and work to this position."

Soderman said he doesn't doubt the value of the program and its teachers, but the district must cut some spending.

"This is somewhat of a luxury, if you look around the state," Soderman said. "To make all ends meet, we have to do these kinds of cuts, including looking at cuts that have an ongoing cost."

Porath urged people to attend Tuesday's school board meeting.

"We want people to come to support us," she said.

Soderman said he will know if more cuts need to be made after enrollment numbers come in this fall.

The district has also started to help relocate the seven teaching assistants to other positions in the district, according to Soderman.

"We're doing the best we can under these difficult circumstances," he said. "My heart goes out to those individuals.

"When one door closes, another one opens."


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