The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Dual language program debated at U-46 forum
By Seth Hancock
Are we global citizens or American citizens?
That’s the question raised after the five candidates for three open board seats in School District U-46 in the upcoming April 4 election debated the merits of the dual language program at the final candidate forum on Wednesday, March 22 in Bartlett.
On one side were incumbents Veronica Noland (Elgin) and Donna Smith (Hanover Park) as well as challenger Melissa Owens (Bartlett) who all fully supported the program but offered little, or no, interest in holding it accountable while incumbent Cody Holt (Elgin) and challenger Ennoch Essendrop (Elgin) believe there needs to be more oversight on the program.
“I’m absolutely for dual language,” said Owens who added “what dual language tries to do is maintain those language pathways in your original first language while also introducing that second language.”
Smith gave a misleading statement saying “we offer dual language by law to our Spanish speaking students.” Illinois law does not require the dual language program but requires bilingual education for non-English speaking students, and U-46 does offer an English as a Second Language program.
Smith said the two-way dual language program is an “opportunity” for English speaking students to also learn Spanish. U-46 does offer Spanish courses outside of the program.
“I am a big supporter of dual language,” said Noland who added: “We are a global society and anything to the contrary I think is putting your head into the sand.”
Holt, on the other hand, explained the role of the board which “is to hold the system accountable for taxpayers and the students, make sure that results are coming out, and to make sure that fiscally we’re in a good place.”
The audience member who asked the initial question, who also was combative with Essendrop and Holt, wanted both those candidates to propose an alternative to dual language.
“With regards to dual language, we must look at and evaluate this program to make sure that the taxpayers and the students are receiving the return on investment they deserve,” Holt said. “So ultimately, it’s not up to me to propose what an alternative to that program would be. It’s up to a professionally paid administrator, if the board so choses not to support the dual language program itself. An administrator would come forward and say, ‘hey, this is a great alternative option’ because we want our students to be prepared for the American society.”
Essendrop said he’s “not for or against” the dual language program and “what I am for is making sure that we provide our taxpayer their investment, it needs to be safeguarded. And as of right now, we are facing $450 million in debt.”
The questioner accused both Holt and Essendrop of taking away the program, but Essendrop noted that what is occurring right now is expansion of the program into eighth grade, and the district plans to expand to high school, and there needs to be oversight in order to determine if it’s a worthy investment.
The questioner also believed that the program didn’t cost more money, but Essendrop said: “Implementation of new programs always cost money, it just does invariably. You need staff to oversee that it’s going correctly, you need to hire new staff and ultimately, because of state law, our workers are unionized and they get full pension benefits and things of that nature. So it will cost. No service provided is ever free. Somebody has to pay for it.”
Holt said that he “can’t say that until we run an evaluation on it to make sure that the taxpayers are getting a good return on investment.”
The audience member said that in a global society students need to be bilingual.
“Well we have to evaluate the program, and I of course really want our students to be great American citizens,” Holt said.
A parent in the district, one of the few audience members apparently seeking information rather than trying to be combative with Essendrop and Holt, wanted to know how much dual language costs and what the law requires.
None of the candidates knew the cost.
“What dual language does is we have to provide that service for those students whose first language is Spanish,” said Owens who added she’d like to see the program expanded to other languages.
The parent, who was of Indian decent, said her kids are bilinguals but “parents can help them with learning the language,” and added: “Why are we spending additional amounts of money just for language? Science, math and other things are more important than just the language.”
Owens said “the law requires that we have those services,” which, as stated earlier, does not.
“The cost, I don’t have that figure off the top of my head, but my understanding is that the cost was not a significant increase to provide dual language,” Noland said which Smith echoed.
Noland and Smith are part of the current board’s majority.
Holt said he didn’t have the number, “but this is another reason that I would love to have administration evaluate it to see if we can find more efficiencies within dual language, find out what we are required by law to offer and see what’s working for us and what is not working for us, so we can put more money back into the programs like mathematics, social studies and some of the core curriculum items.”
Essendrop said that funds are “better spent” on math and sciences.
Another question on programs was if candidates supported expanding vocational programs?
Both Essendrop and Holt said there should but it depends on the merits of the proposal as Essendrop said “I do have a heart for that and I do see a need for that, but it would depend on the proposal” and Holt that “we have to make sure as well that any proposals coming forward are sound… but philosophically, yes I do believe we can offer that.”
Noland said it “makes a great deal of sense” to model a program for vocation like the high school academies, and both Owens and Smith said they “believe we should be preparing students to be college or career ready.” Owens added “these classes have value” whether a student is college or career bound.