Richland 2 black parents group wants to look at district salaries

Richland 2 school district map and logo
Richland 2 school district map and logo The State

A Richland 2 parents advocacy group that pushed for a shift in the racial makeup of the school board last year and for examining the discipline of black male students is now pressing into the district’s spending on personnel.

Who is getting paid the biggest bucks, and how does that break down by race, gender and tenure?

The Richland 2 Black Parents Association has filed a Freedom of Information request, asking for records showing the district’s 25 highest-paid employees, including their names, positions, genders, races, departments and lengths of employment. The district intended to provide the requested information Thursday evening, according to Richland 2 spokesperson Libby Roof.

By requesting the salary information, the group hopes to either prove or disprove a suspicion that many parents in the district have, the organization’s chairman, Hugh Harmon, said – that minorities are disproportionately underrepresented in the district’s leadership and teaching teams.

“We always like to work from actual, factual data,” said Harmon, an assistant administrator at Brennen Elementary School in Richland 1 and a parent of a Richland 2 student. “Just throwing stuff out in the wind because of what we heard through the grapevine – I don’t work like that. I believe if something isn’t measured, it isn’t managed.

“If you have hard data, it can’t be argued. It has to be dealt with.”

Examining the district’s leadership is an effort to give minority families, whose children make up a majority of the district’s 27,000-plus students, a greater voice in the district, leaders of the parents group say.

But a look at the district’s top 25 earners does not represent the full picture of the district’s leadership and employment, the district says. For instance, no teachers are included in that list, so it cannot be used to evaluate the diversity and compensation of the teaching team.

The list also does not include all of the district’s 40 principals, whose salaries are based on their years of education experience, their educational degrees and whether they work at an elementary, middle or high school.

Three of the principals at the district’s five high schools are African-American, and four of them are women.

“Our district strives to recruit and hire and promote top-notch employees with diverse experiences and backgrounds,” said Helen Grant, Richland 2’s new chief diversity and multicultural inclusion officer, in an email to The State newspaper. “We do not define our leadership team by the salary they earn working in our district.”

Having played a vocal role in the 2014 school board election that saw the board’s makeup shift to a 4-3 African-American majority, the Black Parents Association has grown to have some 5,500 people subscribing to its mailing list and has garnered the attention of Richland 2 leaders.

“They said it was just a group of yahoo parents just raising sand; they’ll go away in a month,” said Stephen Gilchrist, one of the group’s founders and leaders. “You can’t keep ignoring something. It just keeps growing. I think that’s what’s happened here. ... We want to try to bring about positive change, and that’s all it is.”

Already the group has challenged the school district’s discipline of black male students, who they say make up a disproportionately large segment of students suspended or expelled from schools. They played a role in prompting the district to create a task force examining its overall discipline policies and enforcement.

Overall suspensions and expulsions in the district are down by 12 percent and 56 percent, respectively, since the 2012-13 school year, according to figures provided by the district.

The Black Parents Association wants to see a district-wide, uniform discipline code implemented to eliminate subjectivity in disciplining students.

But that’s not all they’re asking of Richland 2 leaders.

At a meeting with district administrators and school board members this past spring, the group presented three main platforms of change they’d like to see: the discipline code, a parent information and resource center and – targeting what the group believes is the cause of many concerns – cultural sensitivity and diversity training.

“We have found over and over again that the root of the issue is that the teacher, the administrator ... the person of authority in some way, shape or form dropped the ball with regard to understanding cultural nuance,” Harmon said. “The things we’ve proposed will benefit every child, but if they aren’t dealt with, our (minority) children will suffer the most.”

The district gave a lengthy written response to the group’s presentation and recommendations in June. Regarding a number of points – such as parental and student input on discipline codes, professional development and cultural sensitivity training, and communication with parents – the district indicated they were already adequately addressed or being examined.

Just this month, the district hired Grant as its first chief diversity and multicultural inclusion officer. She’ll be responsible for managing and implementing Richland 2’s multicultural strategies, the district says.

“At no time, but especially after recent events in Charleston, do we want race to divide us,” Grant said in an email to The State. “When parents raise a concern, we try to resolve it at the level closest to the student. Whether through a teacher, school counselor or school administrator or a district-level administrator, our goal is to work with the parents toward a resolution.”

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.