ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Allentown School District is failing its minority children, and has been failing them for far too long, according to three leaders of the city's black and Latino communities.
They said 81 percent of the district's children are minorities, but less than four percent of its teachers are minorities.
They also said only three of at least 70 administrators are minorities -- and one of those three is resigning, apparently not happily.
Standing with a small group of supporters, the three men held a news briefing outside the school district administration building before Thursday night's school board meeting. They believe children will get better educations if they have more positive adult role models to whom they can relate.
"We are here because of our kids," said Daniel Bosket, president of the Allentown chapter of the NAACP. "Our kids are the future. We're not going to stand idly by and see our kids not receive the quality of education that they deserve, in an environment which is conducive to helping them learn.
"We're also not going to allow productive resources that support our students to leave the school district and not do anything pro-actively to try to keep them."
The speakers said for years the district has been promising to improve diversity by hiring and retaining many more African-American and Latino teachers and administrators, but that hasn't happened.
They also said the district has failed to implement recommendations made several years ago by its own diversity committee.
The environment at ASD "is at best tepid toward diversity issues, at worst hostile toward diversity issues," said Ed DeGrace, who described himself as a long-time Latino community activist. "The school district's posture is that ‘we don't have a problem.'
Clearly there is a problem. If they don't accept the fact that they have a problem, certainly there's not going to be a solution."
DeGrace said several years ago, Superintendent C. Russell Mayo publicly promised to increase minority hiring, but that never happened.
DeGrace said in every category of employment "the number of representatives of people of color has gone down."
"We seem to be going backwards," agreed Bosket.
Bosket said representatives of both Allentown's Latino and African-American communities have expressed concerns about diversity issues directly to Mayo in several meetings, but there has been a lack of response by the superintendent.
"We have followed district-established protocol with the administration, and we feel we have been ignored," said Carlos Lopez, a former ASD principal and school board member.
Lopez said the news conference was called "to alert members of the school board to the unresolved grievances that can lead to legal action if they continue to be ignored."
Bosket called on the community to get involved by encouraging the school district to do the right thing for the children it educates.
"We've been asking for this for about 20 years," said Lopez.
Superintendent Mayo could not be reached for comment after the news conference.
District spokeswoman Kimberly Benner said a meeting with minority community leaders is scheduled for next week.
This year, nearly 66 percent of the total ASD student body is Hispanic, 16 percent is black and 14 percent is white, according to demographic information on ASD's web site.
The minority is the majority, said DeGrace.
Bosket and DeGrace served on a school district diversity task force organized by Mayo in 2005, not long after Mayo was hired as deputy superintendent.ASD fails to provide a staff that reflects its student population, contend minority spokesmen
DeGrace said the task force recommended doubling the number of minority employees in all areas of the district by 2010, but that never happened.
He said the task force worked 1,980 hours to develop a plan that would address a lack of minority representation "across the board" at ASD – from maintenance and food service personnel to top administrators.
That plan recommended doing a climate survey to learn how people in the district felt about diversity issues. DeGrace said results of that survey "were never quantified or defined."
He said the task force plan also proposed hiring an assistant human resources director who would work toward remedying that situation, but that position was never filled.
Benner of ASD said: "Recommendations from the diversity committee have been implemented. Recommendations tied to money are difficult to get into the budget. With reductions on budgets there have not been many new hires."
DeGrace said the school board should reinstate the task force to address diversity issues. He said one thing that revived task force should look at is why Latino educators don't stay in the district when they are hired. "Is it an active hostile environment? The demands are too high, the resources are too low and the support is non-existent." He indicated other districts are much more receptive to people of color and don't face the huge financial problems cash-strapped ASD faces.
"I want the school board to acknowledge there's a problem," said DeGrace, adding the district knows there is a problem – and has a remedy -- but is unwilling to do anything about it. "That's unacceptable."
"In the wake of announced layoff to balance the budget, there is grave concern no improvement in diversity will ever occur," said Bosket a statement released at the news conference.
The men objected to Latino elementary school principals being reassigned by the administration, "removing them from much needed schools and communities where parents and students can relate to them." Lopez said the school board should look into why those principals are being transferred.
Without revealing why she is resigning, the three men said the resignation of Susan Lozada as the district's executive director of community and student services "has caused increased concern that a strong advocate for diversity and students of color will be leaving the district."
Said Lopez: "The community would like the school board to intervene and attempt to retain her as a strong voice for students and parents."
DeGrace called Lozada a high-ranking Latino member of the administration and indicated she resigned because of the environment in the district.
Lopez said he has seen Lozada's resignation letter but declined to divulge its contents. He said if school board members read that letter they will need to investigate why a person in central administration would write what Lozada wrote.
"In regards to Mrs. Lozada, we do not discuss personnel issues," said Benner of ASD.
Bosket said the Allentown NAACP is looking into complaints about ASD's IBEAM Academy alternative school.
Lopez claimed a boy in that school was bullied and harassed by a teacher. He said when the principal could not help the boy, his mother went to the school board to complain. But she was intercepted by an unidentified male administrator who said she did not have to speak to the board because he would help her son. So she did not speak to the board, but the bullying did not stop.
Although the woman's son no longer attends that school, Lopez maintained: "It is our understanding the issue at that school with that staff member persists." He later said that staff member is white.
Despite their criticisms of the district, all three men stressed they appreciate the work done by the school board.
"We support the Allentown School District," said Bosket. "And we recognize that this is a difficult time for the school district because of funding and trying to balance the budget. We want to communicate to the school board that we support them, but we need them to know they must act on certain issues."
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