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SCHOOL BOARD // Greek-English program wins a partial victory

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

The Pinellas County School Board agreed Tuesday to restore some funding for the Greek-English bilingual program in two of Tarpon Springs' elementary schools, at least for the remainder of this school year.

The board made no commitment to continuing the program in years to come, though school officials say they will help the community apply for grants that could pay for it in the future.

Members of the Greek-American community turned out to show their support, but the head of the teachers' union urged School Board members not to fund the program because it does not pay for itself. The board decided to support the program at Tarpon Springs and Sunset Hills elementary schools.

The reaction among Greek-Americans was tempered. They had managed to persuade the School Board _ through telephone calls, public protests and petitions _ to continue funding the 20-year-old program, but some were disappointed the board eliminated the position of a popular program coordinator.

"We really saved (the program) for one year because they were prepared to let it die," said Peter H. Varis, president of the Greek American Community of Florida. "It was a victory. But it wasn't a very big one."

The School Board agreed to fund a $112,000 scaled-back version of the bilingual program, retaining seven teachers' assistants but eliminating the positions of the coordinator and a secretary. The program serves more than 300 Greek and non-Greek children in Tarpon Springs schools. It recently lost both federal and county funding totaling nearly $500,000.

Superintendent Howard Hinesley said the plan was the best he could recommend at a time when the school district is strapped for cash and is looking for ways to pare its more than $800-million budget.

Hinesley said school officials just learned the district may need to find an additional $400,000 to hire new teachers and $150,000 for a staff fingerprinting program.

"I am telling you we are treading in a dangerous area . . . if we don't learn to be disciplined about the budget," Hinesley warned board members.

Linda Bacon, president of the Pinellas County Teachers Association, urged board members to stick to their new policy of not paying for programs that have lost their original funding source.

She said it was unfair for the School Board to consider paying for the bilingual program when it had cut many essentials in recent years, including teaching assistant positions in classes for emotionally disturbed and learning-disabled students. "This is a test of your courage," Bacon told the School Board.

But board members said it was better to continue the program because it had already begun this school year and has been in place for two decades. Hinesley said the quality of the program would not suffer even though the district would be spending less money.

Varis disagreed. He said the School Board's decision created a "less than bare bones" bilingual program. And the loss of the coordinator, he said, hampers the program's ability to seek grants for next year. Hinesley said the district will hire the coordinator, Maria Koukoulakis, on an hourly basis so she can lend her expertise to grant writing. Koukoulakis also will be reassigned to a teaching position elsewhere in the district.