Columbia County school officials have outlined the cost of starting an elementary school Spanish program, but some school board members said in these lean times they likely would not support it.
School Superintendent Tommy Price said during Tuesday's school board meeting that it would cost $333,317 to begin a Spanish program in kindergarten next year in all elementary schools - about the same price the board paid to install a kitchen at Harlem High School last year.
Under this plan, it would take 5 1/2 teaching positions to offer Spanish to kindergartners three times a week, figuring an average cost of $58,000 per teacher. By the time each consecutive grade is added, the program would cost $2.5 million to operate by the 2009-2010 school year.
Offering Spanish instruction five times a week would cost $545,428 in the first year, rising to $4 million by the time it was fully implemented.
The program would serve about 1,500 pupils at each grade level, Price said.
The board will soon go into budget talks, and Price warned that it is not going to be a healthy financial picture.
"It is going to be a very close budget, and you are going to eat into your reserve," he said. "You can't continue to do that much longer. The money won't be there."
Price said the board will be flexing much of its financial muscle trying to further reduce class sizes in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Board member Lee Muns said if the board believes it will benefit children, then it should proceed with the implementation.
"In 13 years, is this going to help them in college or help them in the job market, help them be better prepared?" Muns said. "If we feel like this is going to be good for our kids, we've got to figure out how to do it."
Board member Wayne Bridges said each school should be allowed to decide if they want to offer foreign language instruction.
"If there are schools that think this will be beneficial to their student population, then we should do everything in our power to get it to them," Bridges said.
Finding the time to teach it also is a consideration, particularly with the emphasis on accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Elementary foreign language has been debated in Columbia County for the past two years. Exchanges between board members at the meeting Tuesday night often got heated.
"I'm sitting here and it sounds like I'm against Spanish, but some people have blinders on. I don't want to saddle the board with a $4 million program it can't follow through with," Bridges said.
Board chairman Roxanne Whitaker said if she had to vote today, she would not be in favor of implementing elementary foreign language when there is belt-tightening in other instructional programs.
The meeting was discouraging to Denise Rosenzweig, a Stevens Creek Elementary School mother who has been an advocate for elementary foreign language.
"If you can spend $330,000 and have an impact on 1,500 students teaching them foreign language three times a week, then that's money well spent," she said. "It's an enrichment that will stay with them forever."
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