There’s a lack of minority representation and participation in Unit 5 schools, according to a 20-year Bloomington-Normal resident.
Jerry James told the Unit 5 school board Wednesday night that there has been no progress in hiring more teachers from minority backgrounds in the past 10 years. He said local minority teachers are forced to take jobs in Decatur, Champaign, and Peoria.
“When we have minority candidates that come to the district, they’re not even given a chance to be offered a job, for the district to even determine whether or not it’s a good fit,” James said.
Unit 5 Director of Human Resources James Harden said James' concern is valid.
"This year we spent some time working with a historically black university, Central State in Ohio, also with Harris-Stowe State University. We are forming a good partnership with them to see if we can be targeted in pipelining some teachers of color into our school district," Harden said.
The problem is, he said, there are not many African-American candidates to choose from.
Harden said all schools have the same goal of diversifying their staff.
"We're all fighting for the same 100 candidates. 10,000 job openings, 100 candidates," He said. "So, you know, pickings are getting slim."
Harden stressed the district will not lower their standard in the search for teachers.
"Everyone gets an opportunity, and equal opportunity, but it's important that we continue with the highest quality of education possible. Now I strongly contend that does not have a color attached to it," Harden said.
James recommended the district partner with the local NAACP chapter to address the problem and plan how minority hiring can become a priority in the future.
“We need to have more diversity within our schools and classrooms so we can give our students a positive outlook on themselves and see how they fit in the community,” he said.
Harden agreed, saying the No. 1 goal of Unit 5 is to have the teacher pool represent the student pool. However, the lack of minority background individuals pursuing teaching jobs makes that difficult, he said.
"I was just watching the news the other night ... but they were talking about just not having enough teachers," Harden said. "I don't care what color the teacher is."
Unit 5 schools will phase in the use of ID scanners when getting on the bus to accurately keep track of ridership numbers.
High schools and middle schools should expect quick introduction beginning in the first couple weeks of school. Student bus riders will be expected to swipe their ID card when getting on the bus.
Elementary students will be phased into the program at a slower pace, starting with a three-school pilot program and giving adequate time for teachers and staff to prepare young kids for the change. Ideas for keeping track of kids’ IDs include around-the-neck lanyards and attaching the ID to the student’s backpack.
IDs at all ages would resemble those already distributed at the high school and middle school levels, including the student’s name and photo.
Unit 5 Board Member Amy Roser expressed concerns about the security of ID cards including the name and photo of young kids being easily visible to passersby.
However, representatives from First Student and the district's transportation board insist this process has worked successfully for special needs students in the district and that its implementation will further secure students by better tracking their location.
First Student’s Unit 5 Location Manager Mark Bohl also discussed the the district’s surplus of drivers for the 2018-19 school year. For the district’s expected 132 routes, First Student currently has 154 drivers with more in training, which exceeds the minimum 150 needed to staff all routes.
The board is preparing to start the process of issuing $16.5 million in working cash bonds for staffing classrooms and various district programs as well as various district improvement projects.
Working cash proceeds from these bonds are not expected to be available to the district until November, based on the current timeline.
Editor's Note: This article has changed to reflect more precise quotes.
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