Appointments Called ‘Bogus,’ ‘Joke’

A number of administrative appointees appeared before the Escambia County School Board yesterday to thank Superintendent Malcolm Thomas for their assignments. None of them were black.

“It’s a joke,” said Ellison Bennett, president of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who attended the meeting.

The civil-rights activist said that the appointments were indicative of the school district’s commitment to increasing its minority numbers. Bennett said the minority community had been fighting the school district over discrimination issues ever since the matter was fleshed out in court decades ago.

“Ever since 1959 we have been fighting this same fight,” he said, referring to a lawsuit brought against the district by Dr. Charles Augustus.

Currently, the Escambia school district has a more than 50 percent minority population, with 35 percent of that being black students. The district’s minority staffing numbers—as well as administrative numbers—have been around a quarter of that for a decade.

Not all of the administrative appointments made yesterday were present for the meeting. While addressing the board on a separate matter—the fate of A.A. Dixon—Rev. Lutimothy May asked the superintendent about the absent appointees.

“I just want to know, were any of them minority appointees?” May asked.

The superintendent replied that they were not.

“It’s bogus, totally bogus,” said Rev. Lonnie Wesley, of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church. “If you’re going to name eight people, at least name one minority.”

District officials have contended that efforts are continually made to recruit minority employees and narrow the gap between student and staffing numbers. They point to a shallow pool of qualified applicants as the main obstacle.

Bennett called that rationale “age-old nonsense.” Wesley said the hiring system is flawed overall.

“You just cannot keep making excuses for not doing what is right, what is fair, what is just,” the pastor said.

With the future of Dixon—a struggling charter school serving predominantly minority students—on yesterday’s agenda, the meeting attracted a number of African-American citizens. The crowd heard discussions on several civil-rights related issues.

During the meeting’s public forum, Lynn Laird—who is not African American—complained to the school board about circumstances at his granddaughter’s school, which he didn’t name. He relayed how his granddaughter had been active in a club supportive of then-candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential race.

Laird noted that the school had previously featured standard presidential photographs of President George W. Bush throughout the facility. Upon Obama’s election, he charged, those photos were removed but were never replaced with photos of the current president.

“There has yet to be a single photograph of President Obama. Is that a policy of this board? If so, that’s wrong,” Laird said. “There is not a single picture of the first black president of the United States—that’s wrong.”