By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Two public school activists say they lost their appointments to the Broward School Board’s Diversity Committee as payback for bringing attention to rundown conditions at Hallandale Beach High School.
Committee members Catherine Kim Owens and James Sparks told Broward Bulldog they were notified Thursday by School Board Chair Ann Murray that she had not reappointed them. In a brief letter, Murray informed each that their terms had “concluded” and thanked them for their service.
Hallandale High is in Murray’s district. “I assume this has to do with the fact that I was vocal” about poor conditions at the school, said Owens.
Murray said Monday that her decision not to reappoint Sparks and Owens, both residents in her district, was made to give others a chance to serve, and was “not a retaliation” for their outspokenness.
She noted that much has been done to make repairs at Hallandale High, including the installation of a new air conditioning system. “There is only so much money; we are doing the best we can,” she said.
Committee members, who met Thursday, said Murray’s decision hurts the Diversity Committee’s ability to ensure students in Broward public schools have equal access to a quality education and proper facilities.
“This says to me if you say the wrong thing you won’t be here,” committee member Ernestine Price said at the meeting. “Even though you work hard you get slapped in the face.”
“Are they saying if we see something we should sweep it under the table?” said committee member Barbara Williamson. “If so, we should quit.”
Roland Foulkes, chair of the 30-member diversity committee, was annoyed when he echoed those sentiments. “I believe this is an example of the outcome when people do their jobs well,” he said.
POOR CONDITIONS AT HALLANDALE HIGH
Sparks was one of the community leaders who first brought attention to rundown conditions at the school in the 1990s through the community group Concerned Citizens for our Children. A lawsuit filed by Concerned Citizens led to an agreement in 2000 that community members and the School Board would monitor conditions and make improvements at Hallandale High and other schools.
Sparks spoke out publicly this year after a team of Diversity Committee members reported that dilapidated conditions still existed at the school. Owens was the team member who compiled the critical report, which drew the attention of Broward Bulldog and other local media days after a statewide grand jury blasted Broward school officials for mismanagement.
The district reacted by making upgrades to computers, fixing locker rooms, repairing ceilings and showers and taking other remedial measures.
Thursday’s meeting was the first session for those appointed or reappointed to one-year terms.
Each of Broward’s nine school board members, seven from districts and two at-large, selects three appointees. District board members must select appointees from their district, while at large members can select from the entire county. Three students also sit on the board.
All of the appointees are volunteers. A new chair will be named by committee members in January.
While dropping Owens and Sparks, Murray reappointed Shevrin Jones and named a new member, Daphne Henry. Murray has one more appointee to name. She said Monday that she will likely choose a Hispanic, as that group is not well represented on the committee.
Four other vacancies belong to board members from other districts.
Frustrated diversity committee members discussed a motion to urge some other board member to appoint Sparks and Owens, but decided the request would be futile because eligible board members already had used their available selections.
MESSAGE TO TOE THE LINE
Hallandale High wasn’t the only rift between Murray and members of the Diversity Committee.
According to Owens, Murray objected to committee members making unannounced trips to public schools.
“We felt we could not do that,” said Owens, who added that committee members did not forewarn anyone of their visits because they wanted to see school conditions as they actually existed, not doctored to make a more favorable impression.
Sparks added, “[Murray] doesn’t want to appoint anyone who doesn’t think like her.”
At last week’s meeting, Foulkes noted that pointing out problems is what committee members are “supposed to do.” But Murray, he said, “was uncomfortable” with the spotlight that was thrown on Hallandale Beach High.
“They were hard working and dedicated, especially in Hallandale,” Foulkes said of Owens and Sparks.
Last March, Foulkes called for Murray’s resignation after news reports described her use of a racial slur when she was a school district transportation supervisor in 2007. The disclosure was another “embarrassment” for her around the time of problems at Hallandale Beach High, Foulkes added. Hallandale High is a predominantly black school.
Murray apologized for the remark but declined to step down.
William Gjebre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org