Shouts to diversify Sandusky Schools' teaching staff can be heard loud and clear -- but what if diversity chooses to go elsewhere?
Sandusky superintendent Bill Pahl defended the district's stance on minority hiring at a recent community forum.
"We send people out to recruit minority candidates at several different colleges and universities," he said. "Our recruiters are both black, and we also belong to a consortium of schools that are looking for minority candidates. There are next to no black education candidates out there. Our mission is to seek out qualified minority candidates. Our goal is to hire teachers to meet the challenges that we are faced with in our school district."
Residents such as Paul Bupe hope their children will have the opportunity to witness several black educators in the front of the classroom.
"I have four children who have earned 4.0s this school year," he said. "I hope when they reach what they want to achieve, there were black folk standing in front of their classes. We need to look at how we can bring them in."
Pahl said even when minority candidates are found, they're difficult to hire.
"The larger cities offer more money, and there is a better social life for them in the cities," he said. "We have offered teaching jobs to two black candidates recently, and they both turned us down to go to Columbus and Cincinnati. We offered a black candidate an administrative job this year, and he chose to go to a suburban district in the Cleveland area."
Currently, of the 369 certificated staff positions in Sandusky City Schools, 31 are minorities; 34 of 176 classified staff members are minorities.
Of the 3,691 students enrolled in Sandusky City Schools during the 2006-07 school year, 2,028 students were black, Asian, American Indian, Hispanic or multi-racial.
"I completely understand why the community is concerned," Sandusky resident Sheena Stayler said. "I mean, only having only 30-some minority teachers in a group of 369 is a big deal. There are a lot of black educators out there. Why isn't Sandusky hiring them?"
The Ohio school district annual reports, listed on the Ohio Department of Education Web site, tell a different story.
According to the reports, minority hiring isn't just a problem in Sandusky -- it's a problem throughout the state.
In 2007, 15 percent of students statewide were black, while 5 percent of teachers were black. The highest concentration of black teachers -- 20 percent -- was in major urban districts, where 58 percent of students are black.
"School districts in Ohio are all struggling to hire in minorities, period," said former Cleveland teacher Todd Neilman, who lives in Huron.
"There is such a slim number of candidates that when districts do find them, bigger cities have already sunk their teeth in," he said. "Any smart person, whether they love teaching or not, will go to the bigger paycheck. The bigger cities are offering larger salaries, so the smaller communities, whether populated with 90 percent white, black or Hispanic, are left in the dust."
The Associated Press reports minorities comprise only 6 percent of Ohio's teaching force, while minority children make up 14 percent of Ohio's 2 million public school students.
Even in larger cities like Cleveland, where two-thirds of students are black, less than one-third of the teachers are black.
"The numbers of minority teachers are nowhere close to the student enrollment," Neilman said. "It's not just a local problem: It seems to be a problem in the entire state. Visit any college and you'll see there are more white individuals in the educational field. Why, you ask? I have no idea, and by the looks of national numbers, no one really has a clue."
Sandusky resident Timothy Fowler said he questions who's really the minority in Sandusky.
"If you look at the numbers, the so-called minorities are no longer minorities," he said. "The white man is a minority. So if your concern is about having more minority teachers to teach the minority students, well then, we've certainly done that."
According to knowledgeworks.com, about 7 percent of teachers nationwide are black or Latino, and data shows minority teachers are retiring faster than they are being replaced by new minority teachers.
"I can certainly understand why those considering themselves minorities are upset, but maybe we need to take a step back and look past the color," Neilman said. "It seems to be more of a fight for black and white rights than it is for our children. If minority candidates aren't there or aren't qualified, they can't be hired."
Community activist Richard Koonce said school districts need to set higher goals and expectations when it comes to hiring and recruiting.
"I'm not saying the teachers and administrators aren't doing their job," he said. "I'm not saying they're not doing a good job. I'm saying we can do better. We need to look at what this school district can do to get teachers to come here and encourage them to live in our city. We need to let citizens be part of that progress."
Koonce said the student body seems to becoming "more and more diverse" while the candidate pool becomes "less and less diverse."
"It's not a minority thing or a white thing," he said. "Children can receive quality education no matter what color their teacher is. They can be inspired by a coach or teacher of another color, but I think for all children, not just minority children to see someone like them in these positions, it inspires them. It lets them know, gets them thinking, 'Hey, they're a little more like me. I can grow up and be a teacher or a coach. It's possible.'"
Neilman said communities need to look past color and more toward quality.
"A teacher is a teacher, and a person is a person," he said. "The colors we see in our schools shouldn't matter. After all, there's always complaints about looking past the color. Why should this be any different? I know plenty of white teachers who have touched black students' lives.
"By the way, I am a black man, and my high school English teacher, who was white, helped me more in my pursuits than my math teacher, who happened to be black."