Monday, June 04, 2001

Group says blacks forced out

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — An equal rights group is alleging that black educators are being forced out of Fayette County's public schools, though officials insist their personnel decisions aren't based on race.

        Local ministers are planning a call for action from their pulpits, and a state association of black educators is labeling Fayette County a “crisis situation.” Legal action, boycotts and public demonstrations are being considered.

        “What we have is the mass demoting and terminating of African-American educators,” said the Rev. Bob Brown, who sits on the district's Equity Council. “It appears they are being targeted and purged out of the system.”

        But Schools Superintendent Robin Fankhauser said her personnel decisions are not based on race.

        State law limits what district officials can say about employment matters, but public records indicate the dismissals of some black workers this spring were linked to performance.

        “I know when I look at myself in the morning that I'm doing what's right for kids, and I'm not a racist,” Ms. Fankhauser said.

        In total, 74 black educators lost their jobs this spring.

        Among them were three principals with a combined 80 years of educational experience who have been lauded for their contributions to children.

        “We feel like we were more than qualified for the jobs we had been assigned and had rendered good service,” said Robert Murray, former principal of Martin Luther King Jr. Academy for Excellence, whose job was eliminated this spring.

        About 13 percent of the Fayette public school system's 5,000 employees are black.

        But 22 percent of the nontenured workers laid off this spring, 43 percent of the employees fired with cause and 38 percent of the teachers and administrators demoted or given reductions in pay were black.

        In the mid-1980s, the Kentucky Human Rights Commission criticized the school district for having fewer black teachers than three decades earlier, when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools.

        In 1984, 11.6 percent of teachers were black. In the 17 years since, the percentage of black teachers has fallen to 8.5 percent.

        School board Chairman Harvie Wilkinson said the board directed Ms. Fankhauser to make personnel decisions necessary to boost student achievement, but “it's my opinion that neither the board or superintendent has tried to consciously target any particular group to get that done.”


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