Language programs cut in W.D.M. schools

Language programs cut in W.D.M. schools

Students in West Des Moines will have one fewer choice when it comes to foreign language classes next year, and second-language learning will begin later in a student’s career.

The West Des Moines Community Schools board of education voted unanimously Monday to phase out Japanese from its world languages program, as well as roll back elementary Spanish lessons. The cuts are part of a larger effort to trim $560,000 from the district’s $150 million operating budget for the 2016-17 school year, a direct result of declining enrollment.

A 15-member committee presented the board with a list of 13 cuts that affect some programs and teacher schedules, all of which were approved after a lengthy public discussion Monday night.

Board member Elizabeth Brennan made a motion to amend the proposal and phase out Japanese — meaning no new students can opt to take the classes — instead of completely cutting the program. Students currently enrolled in Japanese will be able to finish in West Des Moines instead of being bused to Central Campus in Des Moines.

The cut that got the most attention from the public at Monday’s meeting, however, was approved by the board. Spanish language classes will now start in fourth grade instead of first grade, savings the district $197,000 a year.

Lisa Remy, superintendent, has said the cut was proposed so teachers could focus on meeting the state’s early literacy initiative, which requires all students to be reading at grade level by third grade.

Tamara Dark, an elementary Spanish teacher at Crossroads Park Elementary, spoke while other teachers in the Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) program stood behind her. She called the delayed start in Spanish language learning a “tragedy” and a “misstep” that will only contribute to continued declining enrollment in the district.

She challenged the board to consider how the FLES program contributes to the school’s revenue, saying it has been an attraction for many parents to move into the district. Dark pointed out the annual cost savings equals 29 students — each student brings $6,600 in state funding — but will affect more than 2,000 children.

Candi Sherwood, an elementary Spanish teacher at Jordan Creek Elementary School, said she has seen first-hand the benefits of early language program. She said her students in fifth and sixth grade are now at the level that her students in ninth and 10th grade used to be. She shared a story of a student who later transferred to Urbandale High School and was placed in college-level Spanish courses because of his proficiency.

“It won’t be the same,” Sherwood said.

Prior to Monday’s vote, board President Vicky Poole warned there will be more cuts coming. Board members have submitted a list of items for staff to investigate. While the board thanked the public for sharing their opinions, Monday’s vote was made without discussion.

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