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Unanticipated influx of Brazilian students taxes school budget Thursday, January 5, 2006
Tyler B. Reed/ Daily News Staff Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- An unexplained influx of new Brazilian immigrant students in recent months has forced the school district to open two new bilingual classes in the kindergarten and first grade.

The surge is surprising school officials, who have seen the town's Brazilian population level off since 2001, and is crimping an already tight school budget.

The district hired a new teacher early last fall when the bilingual kindergarten class at Potter Road Elementary School reached 31 students, Director of Bilingual Services Susan McGilvray-Rivet said.

Now school officials are adding a first-grade bilingual class at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School to accommodate large groups there and at Potter Road.  The district is moving a few students from Potter Road, which now has 28 Portuguese-speaking first-graders, to Wilson Elementary, which has 31.

Each school had about 25 bilingual first-graders when the school year started.  As a guideline, the School Committee has said first-grade classes should not exceed 24 students.

"The classes even to start the year were definitely at a maximum," McGilvray-Rivet said.  "Once we got more students, then we really had to do something about it."

In healthy economic times, school districts might begin the year with smaller classes in anticipation of new enrollment.

"The financial situation has been so tight that we've had to plan for the number of students that we have," McGilvray-Rivet said.  "We have to react after the fact."

She said the immigrant population in the second grade is also creeping higher at the two schools -- 27 at Wilson and 26 at Potter Road.  And the high school has added between 20 and 25 immigrant students since the end of the last school year.

Leaders of local and state immigrant advocacy groups said they have seen no evidence of a surge in immigrants from Brazil.

"I've been hearing of people moving out more than moving in," said Ilma Paixao, president of the Brazilian American Association in Framingham.

Ali Noorani, the executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said the students might be from families who are not new to the area and only now decided to enroll their children.

"It would be kind of surprising that there's a sudden influx," he said.  "I would venture that these are families coming of age."

McGilvray-Rivet said she knows the students are from new families because the school district gathers residency data and information about students previous schooling before they are enrolled.

Assistant Superintendent Walter McClennen is scheduled to present a detailed report on class sizes to the School Committee on Jan. 10.

"We do have an increase in the Brazilian population coming into the schools," he said.  "That's something we're watching."

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