Diversity training never happened

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A policy that was adopted nine years ago and never implemented was discussed last week at a work session of the NAACP and members of the Marshall County school board along with director of schools Stan Curtis.

"Minority staffing and diversity training - have you found any information?" asked Gary Davis, president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"Yes," replied chairwoman Ann Tears. "In March 2000 the board voted 9-0 to pass a Five-Year Goal Statement. I have no idea who had it or where this has been; this is the first time I've seen it."

The Five-Year Goal Statement, which was to be effective July 1, 2000, sets both business and school goals. The business goals mandate spending from five to 20 percent of the total dollar amount of certain programs - supplies and services, development, and modernization or building - with minority-owned businesses.

The school goals require that "employment of personnel and all actions affecting employees shall be based on merit and fairness." They mandate increasing by 3.5 percent each year for five years the number of minority teachers in the Marshall County school system. The goals also ask for a two percent increase in minority gifted teacher staff, administrative staff, coaching staff, and technology teachers.

Clearly these goals have not been met. According to figures presented by board member Craig Michael at the Monday night session, the school system has 738 employees, 93.6 percent of which are white; 5.5 percent African-American, and 0.8 percent Hispanic.

"That's not in line with the general population," said Michael. (According to the County's Website, in 2005 the population was 89.7 percent white.)

"Can we carry out this policy?" asked Davis. "Mr. Curtis, have you had a chance to look at it?"

"We'd have to look at it, and the board would have to approve it again because it was a five-year plan," Curtis answered.

"That is our recommendation," Davis said. "Maybe you would want to increase the numbers."

"If this school system finds itself in federal court being sued for discrimination, how are you going to explain not meeting your own five-year plan?" asked audience member Jerry Freeman. "All you have to say is 'we want action.' Set the policy and it's the director's job to carry it out. Can you tell me you're going to take steps to do that?"

"I'm sure that is what this board wants," said Tears. "Now that we know there will be something done. I don't want our goals to end up like these goals. We need some action now."

"The animosity in the room comes from frustration," explained the NAACP's Rochelle Alexander. "I'm sure there were some qualified blacks who applied - and none were hired."

"Thirty-three positions and not one African-American hired: this is blatant discrimination!" added Davis.

"I'm through talking," said Davis. "What we want to see is some action; if we don't see action we will be back! Mr. Curtis, it's up to you and the board members."

"It's not a pretty picture," admitted Michael. "I'd like to be on record that it bothers me."

"Did you not have any idea this was going to come back on you?" asked another audience member. "Give me one complete answer."

"I've tried to treat everybody just like a want to be treated. I did not keep up with the numbers," said Curtis. "Does that concern me? Yes. This has obviously been an issue for a long time in this district. I didn't know before, but I know now."

"You're in the hot seat, and to some degree you need to be," said Alexander. "There's going to have to be something done to tilt it the other way. Hiring and recruitment both need to be addressed."

Local businessman Mike Griffin said he was "shocked and dismayed" by what he heard at the work session. He called the board's answers "ridiculous" and said they needed to set a chain of command.

"The director is responsible for hiring all personnel," said Michael in conclusion. "The school board has one employee: the director."