Racial Diversity Debate Nothing New In Long Beach - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

02/05/04

Racial Diversity Debate Nothing New In Long Beach

The current debate over racial diversity on the Long Beach school board is nothing new.

Nearly eight months ago, a citizens group raised concerns about a lack of African-American teachers and the absence of a black school board member.

The latest issue is the board of alderman's 4-to-2 vote to appoint Tim Pierce to the school board. Pierce, a former alderman, was the only white candidate in a field that included three African-Americans.

Mayor Robert Bass vetoed that decision, saying the board needed to "practice what it preached" after earlier passing a resolution encouraging diversity in the city.

"And I just have a keen interest in our education in Long Beach," said Dr. Louis Elias, as he discussed the current school board appointment controversy.

Dr.Elias speaks from a perspective of 35 years in education and 12 years as a Long Beach alderman. He says the board played politics when it should have promoted diversity.

"There's fourteen percent minorities in the schools of Long Beach. This one member on the school board represents 20 percent. We're closing in just to be equivalent there. So, I think it's so important to have a minority. Diversity is the name of the game," he said.

John Johnson agrees.

"To those who are struggling with this issue to have a black on the school board, I think they have to trust one another," said Johnson, who has served for nearly 22 years on the Harrison County school board. He's the lone African-American on that board.

"Cultural diversity is very good for a school district. It's good for the students. It's good for the faculty. It's good for the entire school district," Johnson said.

WLOX News talked to a number of Long Beach residents, both black and white, about the school board selection process. Most everyone told us that racial diversity is important. But most everyone also agreed that qualification and experience should be the number one criteria.

Alderman at large, Allen Holder, says racial diversity should be a concern with the school board appointment.

"Well sure it is. That's why I voted for the resolution several months back. Because diversity is. We live in a town that is very diverse. And we need to look at that," he said.

A pair of letters from the West Side Civic club prompted the aldermen to pass a resolution promoting diversity. The first, on June 13th, says, "There is not even one black on the Long Beach school board."

A follow up letter dated June 27th says, "We are concerned that you have not appointed another black individual to serve on the Long Beach school board".

The letters lobbied not only for black representation on the school board, but also for the hiring of more African-American teachers.

The board of alderman will re-visit the school board issue at its next meeting on February 17th. It will take five votes to override the mayor's veto.

By Steve Phillips

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