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updated: 3/7/2012 11:47 AM

Barrington Dist. 220 to keep Chinese program

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Nearly all Barrington Unit District 220 board members Tuesday approved retaining a Chinese language immersion program that recently lost its federal grant -- a decision that was predestined to be controversial.

While parents of students in the fledgling program have demonstrated a rigorous commitment to it -- offering to create a nonprofit fundraising agency to support it -- others felt the up to $243,000 it could cost the district next year was a threat to staffing to maintain a proper student-teacher ratio in the general curriculum.

Parents continued to speak passionately on both sides at the start of the school board meeting in the cafeteria of Barrington High School.

In the minority, board Member Richard Burkhart clearly emphasized his commitment to the general curriculum and characterized parents supporting the Chinese program as bullying those who weren't.

While some parents saw the decision as an either/or, most board members, including President Brian Battle, did not.

But one piece of news that perhaps made the decision easier for board members was that bids for transportation costs in the next two school years came in significantly below what had been anticipated.

Superintendent Tom Leonard said the new bids show a savings of $630,000 in transportation costs from what was expected next year, and a further $106,000 in savings during the 2013-14 school year.

But the task of balancing the budget was then complicated a bit by a suggestion of changing the district's dual-language Spanish program a bit by beginning to teach science and social studies in Spanish to middle-school students in the program.

Though an educational benefit to this was touted, the proposal did come with the possibility of a slight increase in staffing.

One of the biggest factors driving the recent staffing debate was the recommendation to cut 6.4 full-time teaching positions next year, due to a projected decline in the district's enrollment.

But two additional teachers were promised to North Barrington School, which officials acknowledged was especially hard hit this year with classes that crept above the target number of students.

Mike Galvan, the father of two children at North Barrington School, asked why language programs like Chinese immersion have a strict limitation on their numbers of students while classes in the general curriculum were allowed to exceed their targets.

"Why is the general public not afforded that same luxury?" Galvan asked.

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