Hasta la vista elementary Spanish

Despite reservations about canceling the elementary school Spanish curriculum in Douglas County, school board members voted Tuesday to remove the 10-year-old program.

"We were left with a million dollars in the hole," said the district's business manager Rick Kester. "From the financial side, it became very clear following the end of the Legislature that we were not funded."

Many people were teary-eyed about the board's decision, including the board president Sharla Hales.

"This pains me deeply. I believe in learning another language," said Hales. "I'd like to see it come back, but it's either cut the program or spend more than we have. I have to vote to be financially responsible.

"I hope it will not be forever, but the Legislature could make it be forever."

Cutting the program for grades kindergarten through sixth will save the district $200,000 per year.

Other cutbacks include a hiring freeze.

"Six or seven positions were put on hold or eliminated at a $250,000 savings," Kester said. "We're dealing with a serious thing. We're eliminating a counselor's position at Douglas High School."

Additionally, each school may have to cut up to 10 percent of their individual budgets, which are separate from the district budget.

"We've put them on notice," said Kester. "We're asking them to set aside 10 percent of their budgets in case we need to take 5-10 percent to take care of our budgets."

Kester said he will not know until early October - after the new staff is in place and enrollment counts are determined - just how much money the district has available.

Funding for the Spanish program had to come from ongoing money, not one-time money, according to Education Services manager Nancy Bryant.

"Would there be a way for a school site to work out some type of program through parent funding?" Hales asked Bryant.

"They would have to do it without the instructors. There's no way of paying the instructors," said Bryant.

She said the district has found placement for most of the seven Spanish instructors.

Maria Leonard, Spanish instructor at Jacks Valley Elementary School, said she would be willing to instruct an after-school program.

"It hurts to hear you're a failure," she said. "We teach Spanish not only to Americans, but Latino kids. This is the only time they're allowed to be Spanish, and they learn the correct Spanish."

Kester said problems include the rising utility and gasoline costs, a state-required 1Ú5 retirement credit that cost the district $150,000, faulty buses the district could not obtain reimbursement for and underestimated health insurance increases by the Legislature.

"The health insurance industry had predicted a 10- to 15-percent increase," he said. "The Legislature gave us a 2.3 percent increase in the first year and 3.5 percent the second year.

"The bottom line is the funds aren't there. This may be the first cutbacks we've had in 20 years."

n Contact reporter Jo Rafferty at jrafferty@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 213.


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