MOULTON — A Lawrence County resident says Superintendent Jon Bret Smith is not doing enough to hire minority teachers in a district where only 7% of certified employees are Black, and the school board is not forcing hiring practices to change.
Calvin Lee said Smith and the board are also out of compliance with a court order that addresses the advertisement of job openings.
Smith said Lawrence County had 355 certified employees last year and 330, or 93%, were white while 25, or 7%, were Black. Data for the upcoming school year is not complete, but Smith says he expects the breakdown to be similar to what it has been in the past. At Thursday night’s school board meeting, 16 certified teachers were hired. Of the new hires attending the meeting, all were white.
“(Smith) doesn’t have a plan in place to hire minority teachers,” Lee told reporters in the board meeting room while school board members were out of the room for an executive session on pending litigation. “I don’t think he wants minority teachers. He’s not doing what is right and he doesn’t have a board to push him. … We have to get this thing right.”
Smith said Friday that a scarcity of minority applicants is the main issue he faces.
“Especially now with a teacher shortage, when the system has openings, sometimes we don’t receive any applicants from minorities,” he said. “About 10 years ago we might have 200 applicants for some teaching jobs; now we might get 30 or 40 total. The number of applicants is down 75% or more.”
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that Lawrence County had 34,337 residents in 2019, with 78.2% white, 10.9% Black and 5.8% Native American with the other 5.1% in other categories.
Lee brought to the board meeting a nine-page 2009 U.S. District Court order in the Patricia A. Horton v. The Lawrence County Board of Education case that reads in part, “When a vacancy occurs, the director of personnel and/or his/her designee shall post the vacancy in compliance with applicable state laws. Postings shall also be placed on the school district’s website, displayed at each school and program site maintained by the school district, and distributed to the Moulton Advertiser.”
Lee and Smith agree the job listings in recent years have not been published in the Moulton Advertiser, a weekly publication.
“We have been working on this issue,” Smith said. “Up until a few years ago, job listings were required to be posted for 14 days. Now only a seven-day notice is required. New job postings in the Moulton Advertiser would be pointless. The listing would have expired by the time the ad would have appeared in the paper.”
He said the school system is working with Athens State University, the University of North Alabama, Alabama A&M and the University of Alabama in Huntsville to recruit education graduates to Lawrence County.
“We are constantly going to job fairs and staying in contact with area colleges for potential job candidates,” he said.
District 1 school board member Christine Garner, who represents the majority Black district in the northern part of the county, said she wants a more diverse teacher corps but there are several challenges to overcome.
“First and foremost, we should hire the best qualified person for the job regardless of the color of their skin,” she said. “Yes, we need more Black teachers. We need more diversity in the teachers at all of our high schools. But we don’t want to hire people just because they’re Black, white or yellow.
"It’s hard to attract young people of any color to the county because it is very, very rural. If you grew up here, that is a different story. You are accustomed to living here, but recruiting young people not from here, there’s not much reason for them to move here. It’s not the most ideal place for young people.”
She said the state requires at least one minority to be on the hiring committee during the interview process.
“Sometimes we have trouble finding an available minority for the panel,” she said. “There are none in the central office. I was asked to sit on the committee, but board members can’t be part of the interviewing process and then voting on the applicants’ approval.”
Smith and Garner said the county has instituted a program to offer part-time positions to education majors, possibly future teachers, who are still enrolled in area colleges.
“We’re trying to grow our own teachers,” Garner said. “Hopefully, some minorities will get in.”
Lawrence County is still under a 1960s-era desegregation order, but Smith said it does not require the school system to maintain a set percentage of black employees.