When Burlingame School District officials decided to cut an aide position from the fledgling Spanish immersion program after the school year, union leaders conscious of the district's budget constraints didn't object.

But parents of students in the immersion program did, and they plan to do something about it — namely, pool their money to bring in a Spanish-speaking intern from another country to fill the gap.

And, now, union officials are crying foul.

Among other problems, the unions view the plan to hire an intern as a means to replace a union position, said Annette De Maria, president of the Burlingame Education Association and a teacher at McKinley Elementary, where the Spanish immersion program is conducted.

"We have more than "... competent teachers to do the work, so I wish the parents would just trust the teachers," De Maria said.

Burlingame school board President Michael Barber said the intern idea was his, and the district may work with San Diego-based nonprofit Amity Institute to find an intern. He said parents are willing to pay the intern's monthly stipend and put him or her up in one of their homes.

It was understood that the district would get rid of the aide position by the 2008-09 school year, when the immersion program would be in its second year and expanded from kindergarten to first grade.

"This is not a replacement of an aide, it is a different animal," Barber said. "The people who really benefit from a program like this are the families that host. It is enhancing (the immersion program)."

Barber said if the board chooses to vote on the intern issue at tonight's meeting, he might abstain because he has twin daughters at McKinley and was involved in starting the immersion program.

According to Amity, it is not unusual for parents to foot the bill for a student intern to assist a teacher in a classroom 25 hours a week. The cost of bringing a student intern to Burlingame would be $1,495 for the school year, plus a minimum stipend of $150 a month. The minimum total cost for a nine-month school year would be $2,845.

"It becomes a neat experience for the intern and the community," said Tiffany Bettencourt, the director of programs with Amity.

"This is not going to cost the district anything," said Kimathi Marangu, who has a son in the immersion program. "There is support and commitment among the parents to make it happen. This is not the parents taking matters into their own hands. "... We only want what is going to be most effective for the program."

De Maria, however, doesn't see it that way. She said the intern's duties would be similar to an aide's and it is not fair to other teachers without aides in their classrooms.

Besides, De Maria added, the immersion teacher has indicated she does not need the help.

"We can't for each classroom go to the parents and say can you fundraise, too, so we can have an aide," De Maria said.

"That is not a fair thing because not every classroom can do that."

De Maria said she is also concerned about parents being given the OK to look into getting the intern without communicating that plan to the school.

The Spanish immersion aide is a classified position. Officials of the classified employees union did not return phone calls for this story.

Reach Mark Abramson at mabramson@dailynewsgroup.com.