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Decatur School Board approves spending $85,000 to address racial disparities

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Decatur School Board approves spending $85,000 to address racial disparities

Decatur's Beacon Hill Black Alliance held a forum at City Schools of Decatur's Central Office on Feb. 8., 2017. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
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Decatur’s Beacon Hill Branch of the NAACP held a forum at City Schools of Decatur’s Central Office on Feb. 8. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The Decatur School Board recently approved a budget of $85,000 for an “educational equity needs assessment.”

The contractor, which hasn’t been selected, would “audit” the school system’s resources and come up with a needs assessment plan to address gaps in student achievement and imbalances in student discipline.

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Data provided by the school system show that white students outperform their black peers in Decatur Schools. Black students are also more likely to be disciplined than white students. City Schools of Decatur recently hired Lillie Huddleston as its first “equity director” to focus exclusively on this issue. The salary for the job was advertised as between $73,260 to $102,276 per year.

Decaturish asked Superintendent David Dude why the school system is spending additional money on a needs assessment after hiring an employee dedicated to addressing racial disparities.

“It’s really just a question of expediency,” Dude said. “It’s all stuff that Dr. Huddleston could do, but it will take years. We decided we’d rather address it with extra money up front so we could move quicker on the changes.”

Dude also said he was able to reduce the cost of the contract to “about half” of the current budget.

“We’re cognizant of the cost, of course,” Dude said. “We don’t want to spend any money that we don’t have to. If that allows us to get to the end of this school year with what would’ve taken us several years, we’re all for it.”

The budget for the needs assessment was approved at the Nov. 14 School Board meeting. It was on the consent agenda, which means it wasn’t scheduled for a board discussion. School Board Chair Annie Caiola pulled it off the consent agenda to discuss it prior to the vote.

“I wasn’t real clear on what it was,” Caiola explained. Dude told the board he wanted to move quickly and “wanted the authority so we could advance the ball without having to wait for another board meeting to vote on it,” Caiola said.

“The board was comfortable moving forward in giving him the authority given what the objectives of that job are,” she said.

The city of Decatur has a recent history of spending money on diversity studies.

In 2015, the city of Decatur spent $109,000 on a Better Together Community Action Plan to make the city more diverse. The City Commission didn’t formally vote to accept it, however.

Dude said he’d reach out to the city to see if there are any lessons from the Better Together plan that could be useful in developing the school system’s needs assessment.

Dude said the school system’s Equity Advisory Council, which is providing input on student equity issues, recently met for the first time.

“The equity advisory council will have a role in what happens with this assessment,” he said.

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