School spotlight aimed at race

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

Almost 80 percent of the administrators and supervisors in Clovis Municipal Schools are white. More than 60 percent of the student body is not.

The discrepancy is among the issues brought to the spotlight recently by a group calling itself Concerned Citizens of Curry County, which has voiced concerns alleging discriminatory hiring practices in the school district.

School Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm denies the allegations and offers statistics that show the number of minorities in school leadership positions have increased since she came to Clovis in 2005. But she also said it’s a challenge trying to find minority administrators.

“It’s very beneficial to the children to see people in positions of authority that look like them, that they can relate to, that have been part of their heritage and we always strive to make that happen when we can,” Seidenwurm said.

The problem, Seidenwurm said, is that few qualified minority applicants live in Curry County. A master’s degree is required to be an administrator, she said. And according to the 2000 Census, just 4 percent of Curry County residents over the age of 25 have a master’s degree.

Seidenwurm said the district actively recruits outside the area, but “sometimes we’re able to bring in outside candidates, sometimes we’re not.”

Statistics related to the number of minority of teachers and staff were not available last week, though Seidenwurm said she is gathering that information and hopes to have it soon.

The CCCC group, led by former CMS administrator David Briseno, has called for the immediate removal of Seidenwurm, who in April announced her retirement at the end of the school year.

Briseno said concerns are not just about hiring practices.

“We’re looking at the issues and everything that is going on,” he said.

A letter sent to the school board from the CCCC, which includes the local chapters of the League of United Latin American Citizens and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, claimed an erosion of effective leadership recently at CMS has led to poor staff morale, an exodus of key minority administrators, inconsistent hiring practices and the intentional dismantling of programs aimed at poor, minority and socially disadvantaged children.

Following CCCC’s allegations, the school board made hiring practices a priority for Interim Superintendent G.C. Ross, who will take over when Seidenwurm leaves next month.

Seidenwurm’s supporters say she’s worked hard on minority issues, and they have numbers to support the claim.

Seven minorities held 13 percent of administrator and supervisory positions in 2005, the year Seidenwurm was hired. Those numbers have increased to 12 and 23 percent this school year, according to data from the district.

Claims that programs intended to help minorities are being eliminated is simply not true, Seidenwurm told her detractors at a recent school board meeting.

She said the attack on the district is a personal vendetta against her.

“The accusations are obviously not based in fact and I think it’s regrettable that the district hasn’t had a chance to defend itself,” she said, claiming CCCC representatives have repeatedly refused to meet with her.

Briseno, a finalist for the superintendent’s job when Seidenwurm was hired, denied the accusations are a personal attack.

“We didn’t create the wound, we’re just exposing it,” Briseno said.