Is it possible that the county finally has a School Board eager to comply with a 52-year-old federal desegregation order, and willing to spend millions of dollars to do it?
That’s the message School Board members gave the district’s Equity Committee at an Oct. 8 meeting, declaring they are eager to press forward with a costly program for recruiting and hiring more African-American teachers and implementing programs to help African-American students improve academically.
“If we’re going to do this right as a district, we need to put resources behind it,” said Board member Teri Barenborg, whose comments were echoed by other board members. “We need to reach out as never before.”
Board member Jacqueline Rosario questioned aloud why it has taken the district 52 years to comply with the order.
“Why has this taken so long,” Rosario said. “It’s common sense. We just need to do it.”
Most of the recommendations made by the Equity Committee, which the School Board is expected to largely adopt at its Nov. 12 business meeting, focused on teacher recruitment and hiring.
The Equity Committee did not include in its report a recommendation to rezone the school district. That controversial plan would require some students bused to different schools than they now attend, so that schools would be more racially integrated.
Equity Committee members said they decided to delay that recommendation in order to discuss the issue further.
The board’s enthusiastic support for the other recommendations, however, caught the Equity Committee and leaders of the NAACP by surprise during the Oct. 8 meeting.
“Are we embarking on a new day in the district?” Tony Brown, the president of the Indian River County chapter of the NAACP, said following the meeting. Brown is also a member of the Equity Committee.
“The right words are being spoken, but will this board follow through? That’s the question we’re all waiting to see answered.”
The board has not yet voted to fund any of the efforts, but Interim Superintendent Susan Moxley acknowledged there is $80,000 immediately available.
Those recently discovered funds have been sitting unused for the past two years because former Superintendent Mark Rendell never told the School Board the money existed.
Since Rendell’s resignation in May, the board has discovered several instances where the former superintendent with-held financial information, Board member Rosario noted.
“It’s why he’s not here anymore and we’re moving on,” Rosario said.
Under Rendell’s leadership, the district sank more than $750,000 in a four-year battle with the NAACP in a failed effort to get the county released from the federal desegregation order, claiming sufficient progress had been made.
The Equity Committee, which is comprised of two NAACP representatives, two school employees and a community-at-large member, was formed as part of a 2018 court-ordered mandate requiring the district to comply with the federal order. The committee’s job is to oversee the district’s efforts to fix inequity and make recommendations to the School Board to that effect.
Another priority is addressing the achievement gap between African-American and other students.