As the Hillsborough County School District develops new ways to reach out to students who are at risk of failing or dropping out, they are doing so amid a chorus of concern about racial disparities.
Speakers at Tuesday's meeting lined up to address the board about what is known widely as the school-to-prison pipeline. The theory holds that schools, through their disciplinary practices, are putting many students on the road to a life in the criminal justice system, particularly minorities.
"We don't intend to throw our children away, but we do," said Mike Pheneger, chairman of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Marilyn Williams, who filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, said that of the district's 42 middle schools, 41 disciplined black students disproportionately to their numbers.
The matter is now under investigation, with the district preparing its response.
Superintendent MaryEllen Elia is moving ahead with the creation of "success teams" in the schools composed of administrators, counselors, special education teachers and other service providers. Working collaboratively, they will focus on groups of students who are considered at risk because of their grades, behavior and attendance patterns.
Elia and board members Candy Olson and Doretha Edgecomb recently visited the White House, where they joined other urban school district representatives in supporting President Obama's "My Brother's Keeper" initiative. Like Hillsborough's efforts, it aims to boost graduation rates and academic performance among minority students and reduce the need for discipline.
A workshop is planned for the Hillsborough board on Oct. 8.
In other business, the board:
•Held the first of two hearings on the property tax rate and its $2.9 billion budget. The rate will go down to $7.35 per $1,000 in value, although total collections are expected to increase with property values. The owner of a $100,000 house with a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay $551.25. The next hearing and final vote is Sept. 9.
•Voted 5-2 against member April Griffin's proposal to hire an auditor who would report directly to them. The district now has 34 different audits, some internal and some from outside, varying in frequency. Griffin said a board-directed auditor would help the elected body provide oversight. Others said the move would be duplicative and create too much bureaucracy.
•Named these principals: Danielle Shotwell to Riverview High, Dallas Jackson to Sligh Middle, Angela Vickers to North Tampa Alternative, Paul Gansemer to Brewster Technical.