Angry Manchester mayor cuts off federal civil rights panel as it charges city schools with failing students of color.
A federal civil rights advisory panel charged Monday that there is systemic discrimination in city schools.
The presentation at a Board of School Committee meeting was cut short when Mayor Ted Gatsas, angered by what he said was a lack of data to support the charges, asked the group to leave.
The presentation was made by members of the state advisory committee for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
JerriAnne Boggis, the chair of the committee, pointed to a very low graduation rate among minorities compared to white students in New Hampshire, a lack of diversity among faculty at Manchester schools, and to complaints that the English Language Learner program is discriminatory and segregating.
When Boggis cited statistics that 73 percent of Hispanic students in New Hampshire did not graduate, compared to 22 percent of white students, Mayor Gatsas spoke up.
He noted the data did not refer specifically to Manchester and that the numbers conflicted sharply with the state data indicating the dropout rate had been reduced to around 1 percent, a statistic touted by the governor and state and local education officials.
It was an allegation concerning cronyism that brought the presentation to a halt about 30 minutes in.
Boggis said students of color comprise nearly 40 percent of Manchester district students, but that only 7 percent of the faculty are people of color.
“Our committee heard numerous stories about how hiring committees seemingly rig the hiring process in the form of cronyism. This preferential treatment must stop and a more open process must take its place,” Boggis said.
Gatsas again stopped the presentation and asked Boggis to repeat the statement.
He then said: “I will not accept that in any circumstance. I think you need to get your facts straight. There is no cronyism on this committee. We approve every candidate ... So I'm very resentful of that statement.”
Gatsas asked the members to leave and they did so.
Before leaving, Rogers Johnson, another member of the civil rights committee, reiterated the group's desire to work with the district and board to address the problems.
“What this does is increase the likelihood of a lawsuit,” he said.
The state committee is one of many across the country that advise the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which reports to Congress and the President. Enforcement actions are handled by the Department of Justice.
No committee members objected to the abrupt ending to the presentation.
At a later point in the meeting Monday, Gatsas apologized for the outburst.
But, he said, “There may be disagreement as a board, but we're representatives of this great city. I will defend any and all of us against anyone who wants to accuse us of cronyism.”
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