Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Diversity Issue: Robbing Peter to Look Like Paul

We apologize in advance for the length and detail of this post.  Those that care about the growing diversity conundrum, however, will want to consider ALL the pertinent data before making any pronouncements or decisions.

At the May 9th school board meeting, the topic of budget parameters came up, which in turn re-opened the discussion regarding hiring a $75,000 Human Resources Specialist focused on staff diversity recruiting. One woman from the community advocated passionately for the position. She appeared to be under the assumption that the HR position had been voted down, since the board was acting on a motion to remove the $75,000 budgeted for the position in 2011-12 from the 2011-12 budget.

Most of the board didn't know what to do or say. Thankfully, John Welke, who originally made the motion heard round the district (or most of it, anyway), explained that the board vote was to allow the position to be filled within the existing allotment of FTEs. In other words, no new personnel funding would be approved (in light of the tight budget climate). Given that the district already had at least 2 vacant positions, and arguably is over-staffed in Administration and Administrative Support, the board vote represented good compromise.

The district found itself in a quandary. Administration has repeatedly said that this HR Minority Recruitment Specialist was their consensus top priority. Really? Well here was the chance to show it, rather than just mouthing the words. Instead, the district has quietly opted to fill its two vacancies and NOT hire the HR position. We have nothing to suggest that they even CONSIDERED out-of-box thinking, such as job sharing, or making each of the two vacancies and the HR position something like 65% FTE positions each. That could have been done within the board's directive. Isn't something better than nothing? Or was this a case where the district was SAYING they wanted the position, but really didn't value it that highly? Was administration looking to hang their lack of commitment on the school board?

In the end, this district has to follow its own mantra and use RELIABLE data to make the best decision. The data which can spotlight the issue is readily available on the DPI website. In fact, they recently updated their files to include 2010-11 data. That's about as good as it gets. So...time to duct tape the district spin doctors to a chair and look at the uncensored data. We did that. Take a look at the graphics provided in this post. As always, we back up our words with data. The data doesn't lie. We apologize in advance for the length of this post, but there's a lot of stuff to consider here. Time to get it all out on the table. Let's spill the FACTS jar, shall we?

Is the HR position REALLY the answer?
Board members have questioned it, many staff quietly question it, and there is even some indication that the district office itself is not convinced that hiring a Minority Recruitment Specialist is going to solve our our diversity woes.

It's no secret that the district has tried many things no avail. While nobody wants to talk about it, the simple reality is that the Sun Prairie school district community still has a lot to improve upon with respect to establishing itself as a multicultural comfort zone. You can buy all the books and attend all the training on diversity issues, but in the end, attitudes must change universally in order for Sun Prairie to be the minority-friendly school district it desires to be.

The Times They Are A-Changin'
Unless you've been in a coma for the last few months, you must have heard or read that many struggling (read: NOT growing) districts are facing massive staff cuts or layoffs. Janesville, Beloit, and Milwaukee have all been in the news regarding potential cuts. Many of the districts that are in this situation have larger percentages of minority staff. Logic would dictate that at least some of these individuals may be low hanging fruit on the seniority tree. This could in turn create a uniquely large pool of minority candidates.

Without the need for any additional HR recruiting, there is a significant probability that many of these teachers that are either cut or in danger of being laid off or released may seek out a growing district that is actually INCREASING staff. Seems pretty logical...doesn't it? All it would take is a phone call to the teachers union in the affected districts, and we may have a large influx of diverse applicants.

The numbers speak for themselves
Part of the school board's mission statement is to maximize each student’s learning by using data to drive instructional decision-making. In order to use data in decision-making, we need to have data. And let's add to that fact that we need uncensored, RELIABLE data.

The simple fact is that NONE of the 424 public school districts have a staff whose diversity matches that of its students. Certainly, some get closer than others. The problem is: how do we measure whether or not a staff matches the diversity of its students. Must the percentages be the same? Milwaukee, as many would guess comes closest. In that district there are 47 kids of color for every staff member of color. Of the larger districts, Madison ranks 2nd with a ratio of 54, followed by Kenosha(65.7), Beloit (67), and Waukesha (79). Sun prairie sits at a ratio of 87.4.

And these numbers are just totals of ALL minority staff; it doesn't even begin to address the the issue of having a staff that truly mirrors its student body. For that we have to look at percentages of individual ethnicities. If we look at Black/African American licensed staff in public schools statewide, there are a total of 1263 individuals. 960 of them (76%) are employed by the Milwaukee school district. Add in Racine, Madison, and Beloit, and that covers 90% of licensed African American staff. Sun Prairie actually ranks 6th statewide for its percentage of African American staff, and ranks 2nd among the 20 districts similar in size.

Robbing Peter to Look Like Paul?
The simple borne out by the that there are not enough minority licensed staff to meet the statewide complexion of student bodies. Statewide 25.4% of all public school students are minorities. Comparatively, statewide only 4.5% of licensed staff positions are held by minorities.

Statewide there are a total of 3074 minority public school licensed staff. To match the overall diversity, we would need to replace 14,222 licensed staff with minority candidates. That would mean just shy of a 500% increase in diversified candidates! Where are we going to find these people? Arguably, that would be the role of the HR Minority Recruitment Specialist. But still...what is that person going to do? Raid other districts and entice their staff to come to Sun Prairie? With what as a bargaining chip (other than a Taj MahHighSchool)?  It's not like they could offer them a hiring bonus. That would also be tantamount to robbing Peter so that we could look more like a manner of speaking. Only...if we lure minority candidates, then THAT district's minority picture changes. Is it really every district for itself? Screw the other guy...we need to improve OUR diversity even at a cost to yours!??? Or should it more appropriately be a cooperative venture? Robbing Peter to look like Paul helps one set of kids, but at the sacrifice of kids elsewhere.

Isn't this the kind of thing that the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) could (should?) be helping with? Is the problem the lack of minorities earning Education degrees?  One would think that we need to answer that question.  And, if so, how do we steer young people of color into the teaching profession?

The Bottom Line
It just seems that, until the pool of candidates is better filled with minorities, throwing a position at the problem is not the answer. The district is spending $30,000 on this new AVID program which theoretically will be spent to provide options for about 30 Talented and Gifted kids. While we agree that is important, is it perhaps more important to spend that money to do SOMETHING for the 2000+ kids of color?

Clearly we need to do something...but the HR Specialist position is not the answer.  One thing we DO need to do is to provide the SPASD HR Department with the necessary tools to be effective.  Exit interviews are great...but if they aren't captured in a database, how can the information ever be effectively--and efficiently--used?

Don't Just Blindly Trust Us. Look at the Data for Yourselves.
2011 Public Enrollment by District by Ethnicity
2011 Statewide (by District) Licensed Staff Ethnicity Report
2011 Statewide (by District) Administrator Ethnicity Report

Positions are counted based on FTE (full-time equivalency), not head count.

Licensed staff” is defined (DPI) to include: Department Head, Educational Interpreter, Guidance Counselor, Instructional Technology Integrator, Librarian, Library Media Specialist, Program Coordinator, Reading Specialist, School Audiologist, School Nurse, School Occupational Therapist, School Physical Therapist, School Psychologist, School Social Worker, Speech/Language Pathologist, Subject Coordinator, Teacher, Teacher In Charge.