Bonuses Threatened by Bilingual Policy Rift

Times Staff Writer

The president of the Los Angeles teachers union said Thursday he will oppose a group's efforts to rescind proposed bonuses for the district's 4,000 bilingual teachers.

Wayne Johnson, president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, said the vote to rescind the bonuses, sought by Learning English Advocates Drive, a group of teachers seeking to end bilingual education, "will divide teachers at a crucial time." The union represents a majority of teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The English advocates group has said it will try to reverse the union's policy of demanding higher pay for the district's 4,000 bilingual classroom teachers. But the group said Thursday it now may delay the referendum until after the teachers settle their contract dispute with the district.

District officials said passage of the proposal would make it difficult to continue bilingual education in Los Angeles.

'Bad for Teachers'

"The referendum at this time is bad for teachers and it is bad for our organization," Johnson said. "I hope that it will either be withdrawn or the membership will reject it."

Bilingual education has been a controversial issue in Los Angeles and throughout the nation. Advocates say it is the best method for teaching students who are not fluent in English; opponents say it slows the learning process. The Los Angeles school district now uses bilingual teachers to instruct students in basic subjects in languages other than English. Learning English Advocates Drive has advocated using English with interpreting help from a bilingual aide.

Johnson and the union's executive board are engaged in a campaign urging the union's 22,000 members to reject, in a vote next week, the district's current offer of a 20% pay raise over three years. The union has asked for a 21% raise over two years.

Johnson said the English advocate group's proposal is causing internal fighting that could jeopardize the union's position. The executive board late Wednesday agreed to oppose the English group's proposal, he said.

Latino Parents Angry

Johnson's rejection of the referendum comes amid growing pressure from bilingual teachers and Latino parents angry over the proposal. The school district has the nation's largest number of limited English-speaking students, mostly Latino.

More than 200 teachers and parents met Wednesday at the Eastman Avenue School in East Los Angeles to sign petitions and write letters on behalf of the district's bilingual program. Teachers at the meeting said they were critical of their union for failing to reject the English group's proposal immediately.

A second meeting at the union's downtown headquarters has been planned for Wednesday, said Mark Meza-Overstreet, a bilingual teacher and leader of the union's Chicano Education Committee. His committee has begun fund-raising efforts to pay for mailers and other materials to fight the referendum.

Sally Peterson, president and founder of Learning English Advocates Drive, said the group is not an English-only organization. But she acknowledged that it receives financial support from two national English-only organizations: U.S. English and English First. Peterson said she is disappointed that the union leadership opposes the group's referendum.

Bonuses Called Essential

School district officials and other supporters of bilingual education say the annual bonuses are essential for recruiting and keeping qualified bilingual teachers. Without the pay incentives, bilingual teachers would go to other districts that pay more money, he said.

The district and union negotiators have tentatively agreed on bonuses of up to $5,000 a year for fully certificated bilingual classroom teachers.

Teachers and district officials say the referendum will have a big effect on how schools will teach the more than 160,000 Los Angeles students who speak only limited English, most of them Spanish-speaking. Some studies contend that elementary pupils tend to progress faster if they are taught academic subjects in their native language while they are learning English.

But Peterson, a kindergarten teacher at Glenwood Elementary School in Sun Valley, disputes those studies and said her group favors English-speaking teachers with bilingual aides.

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