The Boston Public Schools is coming under growing pressure to come back in compliance wtih a long-standing court order regarding the hiring of minority teachers.
School officials say they are trying to to attract more minority teachers to the city. But some members of the Boston City Council are asking for an explanation of why there's not more diversity already.
"There's a problem here," said Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson. "We're not in compliance, we're not in federal compliance."
A Mandate To Reflect Student Population
In his final orders for desegregating Boston Public Schools, federal Judge Athur Garrity mandated that one black teacher be hired for every white teacher hired, until the percentage of black teachers reached at least 25 percent*. He chose that number based on the number of black students in the system at that time.
"There's a problem here."Councilor Tito Jackson
"We had gotten to 26 percent and now we're at 22 percent," said Barbara Fields, of the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts. Fields is the retired head of the BPS Office of Equity, which used to be in charge of making sure schools were in compliance with the court order. But the Office of Equity is no longer required to sign off on teacher hiring.
"Ever since they took the sign-off authority from the Office of Equity," Fields said, "since that time, the percentages [have] been going down because there's not that internal, constant review."
Councilor Jackson says he wants to know why the Office of Equity's authority to sign off on new hires was removed.
"Those teeth have been taken out; why have those teeth been taken out?" Jackson asked. "If this is truly of the utmost importance to the Boston Public School system, why is it that the Office of Equity is no longer signing off on hires?"
Cutting Through Red Tape?
Kimberly Williams is the current director of the Office of Equity. She says the sign-off system was changed to streamline and decentralize hiring.
"There are some schools that have very low diversity that maybe haven't had an opening in five years and they haven't had the opportunity to increase diversity," Williams said. "Certainly there are others where maybe it's a high-needs area or position that we haven't seen a lot of candidates of color."
At-Large Councilor Felix Arroyo says the change is hard to understand.
"I can't fathom why we will have schools that don't have a single Latino teacher in a system that is 40 percent Latino students, a system that is more and more diverse by the week," Arroyo said.
"I see 12 schools that don't even have a Latino teacher, they're at zero percent. I stopped counting at 16 for Asian teachers. Thank God we have the mandate on black teachers and even then I see 5 percent, 8 percent."
Most of the teachers in the Boston Public School system are white — 62 percent to be exact. Just under 13 percent of students are white. Latinos account for 43 percent of students, 33 percent are black, and Asian students are 8 percent.
Carol Johnson, the superintendent of Boston schools, says it's unacceptable for BPS to be in violation of a court order. But Johnson says there is diversity in educators.
"If you look at our schools, almost half of them, if you look school-by-school we have diversity rates that are at or above the target," Johnson said. "There are schools that have everything from 25 to 60 percent teachers of color. It's the overall aggregate. But we still have to go back to each individual school to make sure schools are recruiting and retaining."
To address the problem, BPS has set up a diversity committee which had laid out a number of key steps to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this post said the judge's mandate for the hiring of black teachers needed to reach 35 percent. His mandate was for 25 percent.
This program aired on May 15, 2012.