The highest concentration of Spanish speakers in southeastern Minnesota is in Mower County.
Thus, a Mower County Board vote Oct. 23 to retain its sole Spanish-language court interpreter may be greeted with a sigh of relief by many citizens.
A staff recommendation had called for cutting interpreter Nitaya Jandragholica’s position as a cost-saving measure.
Hers is just one of three full-time interpreter positions in southeastern Minnesota. A time study done on the position over three years showed a negative discrepancy between Jandragholica’s full-time salary and how many hours she actually spent interpreting.
“I think initially, the finance committee was doing their due diligence with abolishing the position, since the (demand) wasn’t needed anymore at 2,080 hours,” Mower County Commissioner Jerry Reinartz said. “There was no prejudice intended, it was mainly an economic thing at the beginning.”
But there’s more that Jandragholica does than offer interpretive services. She also often assists walk-ins with questions regarding anything from fines to court dates. Crime victims also use her services.
If any county in the region could justify having a full-time Spanish-language interpreter, it would be Mower County, with its 11-percent Hispanic population.
About one-quarter of students in the Austin Public Schools are Hispanic, and some 900 students in the district are Spanish-speakers, according to figures from the Minnesota Department of Education and Minnesota State Demographic Center. That’s second in the area to the Rochester Public Schools, which has some 1,100 Spanish-speakers, but also a much larger overall student population.
The student population figures suggest a vast population of parents and other adults who are themselves immigrants and Spanish-speakers.
“Once word got out that they were considering cutting that (court interpreter) position, then the folks who are the end users got together and gave input,” said Steve King, the director of Mower County Correctional Services. “The County Board took that input and made the decision that, ‘Yes, there still is a need; let’s keep her on staff.’”
Reinartz said that was exactly what helped guide the process.
“The groups that supported (Jandragholica) sent emails to the county board members, came to the next board meeting and spoke,” Reinartz said. “They all supported the position.”
King now will supervise Jandragholica in a newly designed position with new responsibilities. She will start in that position on Monday.
“Nitaya largely works on court floor in the county,” King said. “So, I think it just makes better sense to have her being supervised by someone who is using her, works with her, sees her and engages with her every day.”
In the end, Reinartz said he thinks all parties involved are satisfied with the final compromise.
“It’s definitely not something we expected that would have any controversy involved,” Reinartz said. “Hopefully, if there is another situation, there’s better communication involved from everyone involved.”
While keeping her job is a positive, Jandragholica said the position is even more vital for the community that the Mower County serves.
“I think any community that has a large population of English-language learners should have access to services with language access,” she said. “If you have high fidelity access to a language, you obviously have a better chance of succeeding and navigating through whatever you’re doing.”
Especially primarily working within corrections and courts, she said interpreting can prove even more vital.
“It’s difficult enough to navigate through the court system being an English speaker, let alone if English is your second language or if you’re an English language learner,” Jandragholica said. “Accuracy and completeness in communication is key to understanding the laws, expectations, rules and requirements.”