Off the Books

A school district administrator's extracurricular foreign recruiting prompts investigations in two countries

Avenida asserts that the recruits really are exchange teachers, despite the fact that the J visa program was used only after the INS refused work visas for the teachers. She describes San Francisco's program: "Their [cultural] exchange would be the fact that they are with American students and American colleagues. The intent is for them to be able to learn. They will be here for three years only."

Caraballo, who assisted the SFUSD in obtaining J visas for the Filipino teachers, says that the State Department is strict in not letting the J visas become substitute work visas as demand rises. In fact, Caraballo says she now advises school districts to recruit with regular H1-B (work) visas in order to avoid problems.

But that's exactly where the problems began for the SFUSD. Were this a traditional teacher exchange program, there would have been agreements already in place with specific foreign countries -- like Spain, which has been sending teachers to the United States for several years. (Caraballo says that California is still working on an agreement with the Philippines.) And, in a typical exchange program, there would be a certain number of spaces set aside each year for teachers.

Instead, the school district attempted to hire foreign teachers with a work visa, for which it apparently didn't file the proper paperwork. And when that didn't work, the district obtained "visiting teacher" visas through the state Department of Education for the same teachers. Meanwhile, a businessman supposedly working on behalf of the district appears to have collected $3,000 from at least 15 teachers for the privilege of coming to a $30,000-a-year job in one of the most expensive cities in the United States, all in the name of cultural exchange.

The Labor Department is also investigating the fees the recruits were required to pay Encinas. Under current law, employers are prohibited from charging a fee for visas, but there is no penalty for doing so (this will change with an amendment that goes into effect later this year). Employers must also pay foreign workers "prevailing wage." If the Filipino teachers were made to pay $3,000, or about 10 percent of their salary, to their employer or a representative of their employer, then they may no longer be making the same wage as their American counterparts.

Each violation carries a minimum fine of $1,000.

Last October, two of the 13 teachers who had been recruited from the Philippines died in a shocking explosion of violence. Noel Ridual, a math teacher at Lincoln High School, and Maria Marquicias, a special education teacher at Balboa High School, shared a flat in San Francisco. Ridual's wife and toddler had recently come from the Philippines to join him.

Lorenzo "Sol" Silva, a 62-year-old security guard who lived downstairs, walked into the teachers' apartment and started shooting. All of the adults died instantly, and Silva then killed himself. Jessica Ridual, the 2-year-old daughter of Noel Ridual and his wife, was wounded, but survived. Ridual's wife's parents came to San Francisco to pick up their granddaughter, and take their daughter's and son-in-law's bodies back home.

Now, only 11 of the original 15 teachers recruited in 1998 remain in San Francisco.

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