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Sykes says Decatur caps hiring of black teachers

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com · 340-2432

On Tuesday, Decatur school board member Tommy Sykes accused school officials of capping the percentage of black teachers in the school system.

Superintendent Sam Houston said the school system is meeting its federal requirement, known as the Singleton Ratio, but Sykes said school officials won’t let principals go above the required percentage.

Fifteen percent of Decatur’s 676 teachers are black, and the Singleton Ratio requires each school in a system to be within 15 percent above or below that 15 percent figure.

Houston said school board attorneys recommend that the system stay within 10 percent of the required 15 percent at each school.

Sykes, the only black school board member and representative of majority black District 1, said the school system is using the 15 percent as a cap and school officials are “turning away good candidates.”

Tracking hiring

He said he has been tracking racial hiring during his 18 years on the board and the ratio reached 17 percent once under then Superintendent Buddy Davis.

“We can go beyond 15 percent,” Sykes said. “But we’re not allowing our schools to go any higher.”

In the numbers Sykes said he compiled from the local school system and the state Department of Education, Banks-Caddell Elementary has the highest percentage, 30; Brookhaven Middle School is at 23 percent; Frances Nungester, 21 percent; and Woodmeade Elementary, 20 percent.

Austinville Elementary has the lowest percentage, 9, and Walter Jackson Elementary is 10 percent.

Sykes said the racial percentage of the teachers should be equal with the racial percentage of a school’s student enrollment, although this is not a requirement of Singleton. For example, he said Austin High’s teaching staff should be 34 percent black instead of 16 percent black.

“We don’t dictate the way our children come to us, but we do control the manner in which we distribute our staff,” Sykes said.

Houston said Assistant Superintendent Ed Nichols, who oversees personnel, tracks minority hiring closely. He said he has told principals not to hire a minority teacher simply because the hire would take the school beyond the 10 percent flexibility mark. He has also told principals to hire more minorities because their ratio is getting too low.

Houston said school officials try to maintain a racial balance among all schools. He said the goal is not to have too few minority teachers at one school and too many at another.

The school board allows school officials to hire good candidates and then assign them later to the appropriate position while keeping Singleton in mind.

Hiring at job fairs

In an effort to find minority applicants, school officials attend job fairs at all of the state’s colleges that have education departments. If they find a quality candidate, the school board allows the officials to offer a letter of a commitment that guarantees the candidate a job.

“We’re not going to allow excellent candidates to get away,” Houston said.

Sykes also complained that the school system isn’t doing enough to keep the minority candidates it does hire from leaving the system after a year, which Houston also denied. Houston said the school system offers “state-of-the-art” teacher training, a new-teacher orientation “that is a model for the state” and a mentoring program for new teachers.

“We work very hard to make sure our new teachers feel welcome and are well trained so they have every opportunity to succeed,” Houston said.

Houston said he has not had any complaints from principals about the school system’s hiring policies.

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