Spanish program may get funding

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— Safeway grocery certificates may no longer be the primary funding source for an elementary Spanish program.

The Educational Excellence Commission on Wednesday approved a resolution to recommend funding up to $30,000 of the pilot Spanish program.

The resolution passed by way of a 7-1 vote after a brief discussion by the committee. The Education Fund Board must approve the funding recommendation before the money can be gifted to the school district.

Several local parents attended the meeting to request the funding.

"Studies show (learning a foreign language) actually increases brain growth," Kerry Holmquist said.

Learning a foreign language also produces positive attitudes toward diversity and will help elementary school students integrate into middle school curriculum, which mandates that students take a foreign language, she said.

"Because of all these benefits, we as parents feel a foreign language program is important," Holmquist said.

A pilot elementary Spanish program began at both Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools in February, paid for by the fund-raising efforts of each school's parent information committee. Enough money has been raised to fund a Spanish teacher through the end of this school year. A majority of the fund-raising is being generated from the sales of Safeway grocery certificates.

The Spanish teacher splits her time between each school, visiting all third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classes twice a week for 20 minutes.

The goal is to implement a program that would include first-grade through fifth-grade students, Holmquist said.

Parent Bette Vandahl said the PICs will be able to fund half of a full-time teacher for next year. A full-time Spanish teacher will cost about $49,000.

"We're prepared to at least provide $20,000 to $25,000 of that," Vandahl said. "If you can provide $25,000 out of your budget, then we can do first- through fifth-grade (Spanish)."

The majority of the Educational Excellence Commission supported the funding. The commission needs to make the funding recommendation to the Education Fund Board by the Fund Board's March 26 meeting, when it allocates its budget for next year.

"I think it's a great program and something the Educational Excellence Commission should be all about," Commissioner Mike Loomis said.

Pay for performance also was discussed at the meeting, though no new decisions were made.

The commission voted against recommending funding pay for performance at a previous meeting.

Education Fund Board President Jim Gill said at last week's Fund Board meeting the board could budget money that could be used for pay for performance even if the Educational Excellence Commission didn't initially recommend it.

Steamboat Springs Education Association President Mike Smith recently formed an ad hoc committee to address the troubled pay for performance teacher bonus system.

Most parties agree the system needs to be changed, but the concept itself is still valid. The mission of the ad hoc committee is to reform the system before the end of the school year in hopes that it will continue.

However, without Fund Board dollars, pay for performance can't survive.

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