Consolidating school district administration draws cries of racism

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – In an effort to streamline the administration within the Indian River County School District, Schools Superintendent Dr. Harry La Cava merged two departments.

Instead, the proposed change caused public outrage and accusations of racism as residents of the Gifford community and members of the NAACP protested what they believe would be either the downgrading or ousting of an African American administrator.

“He is not a token minority on a chart,” said Benny Rhyant of Director of Human Resources Kevin Browning.


NAACP President Tony Brown called the district’s justification of the new chart “deplorable” and questioned the actual cost savings La Cava says the changes would realize.

La Cava believes the consolidation of positions would save the district more than $187,000 annually.

“The structure system is racist,” Brown said, adding that Indian River County has a history of African Americans leaving the district for administrative positions they could not get here.

“It is considered the norm,” he said.

Brown questioned what message the School Board would be sending to African American children, employees and the community if Browning were squeezed out of his position.

Browning’s position and that of the director of staff development are expected to be merged into one.

According to La Cava, though, that does not mean that Browning would be out of a job. He told the audience of about 100 that he does not know yet who will fill the positions.

“He’s got a job here,” said School Board member Matt McCain of Browning, “a very prominent job.”

McCain added that in the 16 months he’s been on the board, all he hears from the public is that the district is “top heavy.” He said that with the retirement of Assistant Superintendent Dr. Julius “Butch” Teske, it was a great opportunity to streamline the administration.

La Cava said that when crafting the organizational chart, he looked at ways to combine positions and departments.

“Staff development and HR go together,” La Cava said.

Pastor Andy Jefferson took issue with combining human resources with school improvement.

“Sometimes we try to save a finger and end up cutting off our heads” due to inexperience, he said, explaining that if Browning is not kept within the administration, the district would end up having someone inexperienced in the role.

“Browning has been a model citizen of this community,” Rev. Jack Buckner said. He went on to say that Browning has worked with the school district under three superintendents and if he were not performing as needed, one of the other superintendents would have let him go then.

The School Board voted 3-1 to approve Superintendent La Cava’s new organizational chart as presented. Member Claudia Jimenez, who moved approval of the chart, voted against it because she wanted more information about the financials associated with the changes.

Board Chairwoman Karen Disney-Brombach was absent from the meeting.

Member Debbie MacKay received a standing ovation from the audience during her comments regarding the chart.

She rhetorically asked how a discussion of positions turned into a discussion over people – and in particular one person and race.

“It immediately becomes personal,” MacKay said. “It immediately becomes color.”

She also said the problem is engrained in the community – that it is assumed who would be affected.

MacKay said the district needs to make sure that its staff adequately represents the community and the district’s mission, which would go a long way to address the concerns raised at the meeting.

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