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Farmers Branch educators, parents weigh immigration measures

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 Reporter

Farmers Branch, TX –

Catherine Cuellar, 90.1 Reporter: In 1994, the city of Farmers Branch hired Ruth Feldman to work with immigrant families in the Carrollton Farmers Branch School District so their children wouldn't drop out. She's since taken her curriculum nationwide.

Ruth Feldman, former teacher, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD: And I used Farmers Branch as the example. That's the city that had a progressive look to the future. Just by looking for me and asking me to come and help, that's a city with a vision.

Cuellar: She stopped working there a few years ago and now divides her time between north Texas and El Salvador. After the Farmers Branch city council passed their resolutions last month, she learned about it from colleagues.

Feldman: They said "Ruth, what happened to your Farmers Branch?" That's how I heard first all that was going on was from a call from San Diego. They said it was in the newspaper. I said, "What?" What changes have occurred? Because it wasn't that way when I left.

Cuellar: Feldman and other professional educators fear that Farmers Branch's penalties for undocumented residents and landlords who rent to them will damage a trust she and others worked hard to build. Carrollton Farmers Branch ISD's assistant superintendent. Charles Cole says the district will continue to communicate with students' families in their native languages, regardless of Farmers Branch's English-only resolution.

Dr. Charles Cole, Assistant Superintendent, CFBISD: Our district represents the nation and the world. We are more and more of a diverse society. We can't isolate ourself from the rest of the world. That is an advantage for our children to grow up in a world that they will live in.

Cuellar: Tim O'Hare, the city councilman who proposed the recently adopted Farmers Branch measures, didn't respond to several requests to be interviewed. But in lobbying for the city's new policies - the toughest in the state - he said Farmers Branch public schools are suffering, which Dr. Cole disputes.

Cole: We are a recognized district headed for being an exemplary district. We rank one of the highest in the state with AP and advanced courses. We started a new one for math, engineering, technology and science. So our demographics do not determine our quality.

Cuellar: But Tim Scott, a Farmers Branch parent, city council candidate, and supporter of the new measures, feels a disproportionate amount of the district's resources are spent on immigrants.

Tim Scott, candidate for Farmers Branch city council: At my daughter's school, Janie Stark, the students there turned over 30% this school year so it's challenging for the staff at those schools to meet the goals that they have when they kind of have a revolving door of students.

Cuellar: According to a spokeswoman, enrollment is more stable at Farmers Branch schools than ones elsewhere in the district including Carrollton, Irving, and Dallas. Scott says property values in Farmers Branch are also suffering. Dallas County Central Appraisal District and MetroTex Association of Realtors data supports his claim that the number of owner-occupied homes has declined the past few years. But Farmers Branch home values have increased, just not at the same rate as nearby Coppell or Lewisville. Facts like these will no doubt play into more legal challenges expected before the Farmers Branch measures are scheduled to take effect January 12th.
For KERA 90.1, I'm Catherine Cuellar