Superintendent's pick protested
By BARBARA BEHRENDT
© St. Petersburg Times,
INVERNESS -- A local activist who has advocated for years on behalf of the county's black population says that Superintendent David Hickey overlooked a more qualified black applicant to recommend Steve Richardson, who is white, as the district's new personnel director.
Both Richardson and Inverness Primary School Principal Teretta Charles have years of administrative experience, but activist Mercedia White said Wednesday that, based on the applicants' resumes, Charles' qualifications far exceed Richardson's.
"This is the best that we have to offer," White said of the black community. "If anybody is qualified and can get this job, it ought to be Terry Charles. The fact that she didn't means that there is not a chance for the rest of us.
"We have a highly qualified black person who applied for this position, and she couldn't get it," White said. "I have the feeling it was rigged from the start."
White said that Charles' credentials outshine Richardson's so much that she can only conclude that Hickey did not recommend Charles because she is black.
Hickey said Wednesday that he did not make his decision based on race, adding that he is committed to hiring and retaining minority employees. He refused to answer questions about his choice, saying he wasn't comfortable discussing personnel matters.
"They're both qualified, school-based principals. I could brag on both of them," he said. "Terry Charles is a superb principal and a class lady . . . but I'm the one where the buck stops and I still hire the best in regards to the whole picture.
"They're both excellent applicants and I've made my selection," Hickey said.
Charles' resume shows that she has extensive educational experience, including a stint as an assistant superintendent for the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District. She also held district-level coordinator jobs in both Los Angeles and Long Island, in addition to teaching and school principal jobs.
Charles has served on the faculty of universities in their graduate schools and had glowing recommendations from several top Citrus school administrators.
Richardson has had teaching and school-level administrator positions in Massachusetts and Florida, but he had no letters of recommendation. Instead, he had several reference forms checked by administrators in his application.
Richardson declined to comment Wednesday on White's allegations. Charles could not be reached for comment.
White, a former school district employee, has been active for years on a number of district committees including those dealing with equity and diversity. She has been talking to School Board members about the personnel issue, and she intends to address the board on Tuesday, when Hickey asks them to approve Richardson.
Under state law, Richardson has a legal right to the position now that he has been recommended. The School Board can only reject the recommendation if they cite a specific cause.
White said that when she learned Charles had applied for the job, she called Hickey. "I asked him if she had a fair shot at it or whether it was a just a good old boy thing and he already knew who he wanted," White said. Hickey told her that Charles and all the other applicants would go through the same process.
"This was really an opportunity to go forward and to bring in a diverse group of people," White said. "It was not just how many black teachers she could bring in, but she would have looked at all ethnic groups that make up this school system."
White held the applications of Richardson and Charles side by side, explaining that Charles had a much more professional presentation in her application, which was neat and typed. Richardson hand-wrote his paperwork, and it included one answer that was scratched out. She noted that, because the personnel director deals with resumes and applications in the hiring process, the presentation of their own applications and attention to detail are important.
She noted that Charles is fluent in three languages, including Spanish; has extensive background in large school districts in other states; and is active in a large number of district and community groups.
Plus, Charles had letters of recommendation from several top administrators, including former Superintendent James Hughes, curriculum director Thomas Curry and former principal Mark Brunner.
Richardson included three administrator reference form letters with his application. Under professional references, he listed Linda Kelley, who is Hickey's assistant superintendent; Crystal River High principal Craig Marlett; and Roberta Long, who was Hickey's campaign manager in last year's election.
A committee of school administrators recently reviewed the resumes and interviewed the candidates, then made a recommendation to Hickey. Hickey would not say whether Richardson was the committee's pick, nor why he did not choose Charles, noting only that what is written on a resume is sometimes not the full picture of a person.
"All of that is personnel issues, and I'm not going to reflect on that," he said. "I don't feel comfortable talking about those kinds of things."
White said the latest incident makes her very discouraged about the future for minorities in Citrus County. She said that black candidates have to be overwhelmingly superior in their applications to be chosen over whites.
"I tell Jackie (White's daughter) every day that, if a white person has to run a mile, then you are going to have to run seven (to be even), and this proves that," White said.
She added that she planned to back off from her involvement with the district equity and multicultural committees.
"When something like this occurs and it's this black and white, then what's the use of the committees?" she said.
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