San Diego Union-Tribune

Saturday, June 20, 1998

Texans Corral Few Spanish-Speaking Teachers from Area

As California's bilingual education programs hung in litigation limbo, educators from a Dallas suburb headed west this week to recruit Spanish-speaking teachers.

Ready to offer jobs on the spot, administrators from the Arlington Independent School District hoped to draw 45 or so instructors to their rapidly growing bilingual and English-as-a-second-language programs.

But they returned home Thursday after hiring only five people from Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

While that is far short of their initial goal, the school officials said their $10,000 trip was worthwhile.

"We came here with no expectations," said Anita Buttram, executive director of personnel for Arlington schools, Texas' eighth-largest district.

"We knew it could possibly be a bust or it could be very successful."

Arlington school administrators planned the trip after Proposition 227, which mandates the end of bilingual education in California's schools, passed earlier this month.

Many bilingual education advocates outside California worried that the initiative might start a national trend, but Arlington school officials saw it as a chance to woo teachers.

"We have an opportunity to attract some qualified people here, and we're going to jump on it," Mac Bernd, superintendent of the 55,000-student district, said before the recruiters left Texas on Sunday. "I guess it's consistent with the American way."

Local educators said the effort had limited success because most bilingual teachers are not at risk of losing their jobs despite the passage of Proposition 227, which is being challenged and is under review in federal court.

Bilingual teachers are fully qualified to teach in English-only classrooms; they just have an additional teaching certificate. And, with a high demand statewide for qualified teachers, districts in California need everyone they can get.

"Our teachers have a job," with or without bilingual programs, said Alma Pirazzini. She is director of bilingual education for the Sweetwater Union High School District.

"They're fully credentialed, and our kids still need an education," Pirazzini said.

The same is true for bilingual instructors in the San Diego Unified School District, said Tim Allen, director of second-language education.

Thus, the Texas group had to persuade teachers to leave their careers -- and lives -- in California.

Superintendent Bernd, who headed the San Marcos Unified School District for six years, ending in 1992, said he had hoped to find teachers so dedicated to bilingual education that they would consider moving.

"People who take the trouble to become certified like to practice what they've learned," Bernd, who headed an Orange County school district until he was recruited by Arlington schools last fall, said last week.

"We're betting on the fact that they'll want to continue to employ those skills. And that's why we feel like Arlington can be an attractive place for them to come."

Only two of the five teachers hired were currently employed, though.

Bernd, previously the superintendent of Newport-Mesa Unified School District, admitted that the job offer isn't for everyone.

An interstate move is a tough sell, and the salaries in Arlington, ranging from $26,500 to $49,563 a year, are less than most California schools pay.

(Salaries of San Diego Unified teachers range from $29,370 to $59,714.)

But recruiters wooed teachers with the quality of Arlington's schools, the area's low cost of living and the appeal of the city, between Dallas and Fort Worth and home to nearly 293,000.

While Pirazzini, the Sweetwater administrator, considered Arlington's interest in California's teachers "flattering," she said she does not expect any mass exodus.

"It's cute," she said. "It would probably make a bilingual teacher chuckle."

Rebeca Lee, a bilingual teacher at Southwest High School, said that there is such a demand for teachers in California that she does not expect out-of-state districts to have much luck recruiting.

While the offer may have appealed to some instructors for personal reasons, she said, "I don't think teachers are going to leave California and go to Texas simply because of Proposition 227. Those of us who have been here are committed to our students, and we don't want to dump them.

"We have a job. We want to be here."