Tuesday's Board of Education meeting, the final meeting of the year, began like any other: there was the Pledge of Allegiance, a moment of silence for retired elementary school teacher Connie Rice—who just so happened to be my fifth-grade teacher—who recently passed away and the usual reports.
Four schools gave student performance monitoring reports regarding progress and areas for improvement on the MAP tests, and faculty and staff received accolades for fundraising efforts with the United Way.
Then, during the patron participation section of the meeting where members of the public are allowed to voice concerns and comments, the NAACP dropped a small bomb that if you haven't been following the board meetings lately, would surprise you.
The Hazelwood School District is being accused of discriminating against women and minorities when it comes to procurement policies and working on construction projects in the district.
St. Louis NAACP president Adolphus Pruitt said the school board’s procurement policy requires companies bidding on projects, to employ workers who’ve graduated from an approved union apprenticeship program, thus in his words, violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
"We're here prepared to say that policy is in direct violation of titles six both as a disparity impact on the population and later on as an intention impact," he said. "Your student body is predominately part of the protected class, African American and women.
"As a matter of fact if this policy was applicant to the board itself, based on the numbers in the apprenticeship program, most of you here wouldn't be able to sit on the board. It would be predominantly white males on the board."
Pruitt, who read from a letter that was handed to each member of the school board with the exception of one absent member, said because few black people and women complete that program, they are being shut out.
“When you look at the apprenticeship program in the St. Louis region you see on average 16,000 individuals in there, less than 500 of them are African-American, less than are 100 female, then at the end of the day 90 to 95 percent of the workforce pool that comes out of the program are white males,” he said.
The and expressed concerns . Pruitt also said that upon meeting with district staff, he was told that the policy has been “so effective that non-union construction companies don't even bid on Hazelwood School District projects," he said at the meeting.
“This clearly demonstrates that the decision-maker was not only aware of the consequences of the policy but also acted to enforce the policy knowing of its historical outcomes creating a disparate treatment under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” Pruitt said.
The policy encourages bid proposals that use workmen who have completed apprenticeship programs. These are developed and operated in accordance with a 1992 recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship at the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration.
Board member support
HSD board members Desiree Whitlock and Mark Behlmann stood by the district's policy. Although board members are not allowed rebuttal time during patron participation, the two used their time during the Report of the Board section of the meeting to address the NAACP's claims.
"I am one of those individuals that is in support of what we've done in the district," Whitlock said. "Hopefully we'll get an opportunity to talk with Mr. Pruitt about unions.
"He'll talk with Dr. Price and hopefully we can get some more information so we can work as a team."
Behlmann told a story from when he first entered the board in 1997.
"There's things that transpired when I got on this board," he said. "During that particular time of year, the spring, we were always bidding work to be done that upcoming summer while school was out.
"The school district used a wide variety of contractors, and I won't use any names, but the district was using one particular contractor that was known for never providing what the bid specked out."
Behlmann went on to finish up the story saying that he proved this contractor didn't meet the requirements of its contract with the district.
Behlmann said the reason the district has so many issues from the contractor was because it was a non-union shop. He also said he very strongly supported the federally approved apprenticeship program and worked hard to get that passed as part of the district's supplier program.
"I understand the NAACP's concern," Behlmann said. "As long as it is a federally approved program I am not in favor, nor will I vote as far as changing anything.
"I worked too hard to get that passed."
The NAACP asked the board to establish a policy that encourages local workforce utilization of North St. Louis County residents, along with a pre-apprenticeship recruitment program for the district’s minority and female student populations.
Pruitt said the next steps included sending the letter to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, as well as the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Education.