by Sarah Squires
The City Council narrowly approved purchasing on-line Spanish lessons for city employees Monday night.
The training, provided by Rosetta Stone, will cost $6,115 for the first 25 people to participate and an additional $165 per person after that limit. Additionally, those city employees who complete the three-year program will receive an additional $100 monthly for the added interpretive services they may provide.
Those eligible for the on-line learning will include city employees, city volunteers and members of the City's Sister Cities groups too. Along with Spanish, Japanese and Polish will be offered as well.
The cost and need for the on-line Spanish instruction was questioned during the meeting by council members Deb Salyards, George Borzyskowski and James Kahl, who voted against the measure. Mayor Jerry Miller and council members Debbie White, Tim Breza and Al Thurley voted for the resolution.
Salyards questioned why Spanish was being considered and not the Hmong language. She said there were many fluent in Spanish in Winona already who could provide interpretive services and that the city should factor that in when hiring employees.
City Administrator Eric Sorensen said that there was not a complete on-line Hmong course available that he could find. If there were, staff would be open to it.
Salyards also questioned the $100 monthly reward for completing the course, saying that it would add up over time. "That sounds a little extravagant to me," she said.
Breza said that state demographers have projected the growing diversity in Minnesota outside of the metro area, and showed a Spanish-speaking trend here in Winona in the future.
Kahl said that he thought it would be a better approach to encourage Spanish-speakers to learn English. "If I was going to move to Norway, I'd sure want to know Norwegian," he said.
"This has nothing to do with pitting English against Spanish," said Sorensen of the training. He said there were public safety and law enforcement issues with the current language barrier that could be solved with the training.
Sorensen also cited Rochester and Worthington as other Minnesota cities that have entered into the Spanish learning program, and that they were prime examples of a cost effective way to close the language gap. He said that traditional classroom language learning would cost $1,200 per person annually, plus the expense of taking them off the job for the class time.
"I think Rochester has more money than we do," said Kahl.