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Pastor alleges unfair hiring

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Pelham says school district won’t consider qualified minorities for top positions

By Reece Murphy

A local pastor and community activist accused Lancaster County school officials Tuesday evening, Sept. 16, of intentionally disregarding qualified minority candidates in their recent hiring of a new director of secondary education.

The Rev. AnThony Pelham of Lancaster’s Faith, Hope and Victory Christian Church made the accusation during the public forum portion of the Lancaster County school board’s monthly meeting as a representative of the Delegation for Minority Affairs.

Supported by nearly 25 fellow delegation members, Pelham characterized the board’s July decision to hire longtime local educator Butch Dutton for the position over two female minority candidates with doctorates as an “injustice.”

“Failure to do so serves as yet another injustice to the minority population of the county,” Pelham said. “Failure to ensure that all populations are adequately represented at the executive level where critical decisions are made for all children disallows the need of the minority population to be at the table when decisions are being made about them, for them.”

School board members approved Lancaster County School District Superintendent Dr. Gene Moore’s recommendation to hire Dutton to fill the vacant secondary education position July 31. The position became open after Dr. Jonathan Phipps resigned to become Abbeville County school superintendent.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Pelham referred to three candidates for the position, including Dutton, but called none of them by name.

School officials, however, said Dutton was actually hired from a field of four candidates, three of whom had Ph.Ds.

Both black candidates have Lancaster connections.

One, a Lancaster native, currently serves in an executive capacity at a Midlands school district; the other is a former Lancaster County School District executive director who recently served less than two years as superintendent of a neighboring school district.

The fourth candidate, a white male with a doctorate, currently works for another school district, but has no local ties.

In making his case, Pelham said, incorrectly, the school district had only one black female employee in an executive leadership position. Pelham called the decision to hire Dutton  an example of the board operating without concern for, or accountability to, the county’s minority students and constituents.

Pelham said the minority candidates would have been especially qualified to address the problems of minority students disproportionately impacted by low test scores and high expulsion, suspension and drop-out rates.

Pelham also accused board chairman Bobby Parker, without naming him, of acting unethically in voting for Moore’s recommendation since Parker and Dutton are cousins.

Pelham presented the board with a petition intended to address what he said was the “continuing unfair hiring practices that have and continue to be exercised by our school board.”

The petition, in part, calls for more diversity at the school district’s administrative level, a process to ensure “fair, non-biased and non-discriminatory” hiring and an internal investigation into the district’s hiring practices since 2004.

“Let the record show that tonight we stand before you in body and that we will stand again before you individually on election day with the voice of our vote,” Pelham said reading from the petition.

Officials react

In keeping with public forum policy, school board members did not address Pelham’s statement during the meeting, though Parker agreed to mail him a response within 10 days.

Moore declined to comment on the specifics of Dutton’s hiring in keeping with the district’s personnel policy, but insisted the district does not discriminate in its hiring practices.

“Our district goes to great lengths to insure diversity in our hiring practices at all levels as we work to hire the best person for every position,” Moore said.

Moore also took issue with Pelham’s assertion that school district officials have not responded to his request for a meeting on the issue. The district provided The Lancaster News with a copy of Parker’s response dated Sept. 3 to Pelham.

In it, Parker said the district would provide Pelham with whatever documents it could under the Freedom of Information Act, but said it would be inappropriate for him or other school board members to discuss a confidential employment matter.

“If there are specific allegations of discrimination that you believe need to be investigated by the district administration,” Parker wrote, “please advise me of the specific allegations in writing, and I will ensure the administration investigates the concerns and responds to them, as appropriate.”

District officials said Pelham has yet to provide that information.

Background

Pelham made similar allegations against school district officials regarding the hiring of the district’s director of accountability, who is white. Pelham first made his most recent allegations against the school district in a letter to the editor published in the Aug. 15 edition of The Lancaster News.

The school district currently has three black female executive-level department heads who are in charge of human resources, adult education and food services.

The executives account for half of the six executive department heads hired by the board since Moore took over as district superintendent in 2006.

District employment records show one-third, three out of nine, of the district’s principals hired by the school board during Moore’s tenure, are black, as are nine of the 18 assistant principals hired during the same time period.

In commenting on the board’s decision at the time, Moore noted Dutton’s 30 years of practical experience working with the district’s middle and high schools as a teacher, assistant principal and principal as well as his experience as a coach.

Dutton holds a master’s degree in administration and supervision from Winthrop University.

 

Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151