Statistics: Public school faculties either mostly black or mostly white

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 9, 2000

JACKSON – Teachers and administrators in affluent Mississippi school districts are mostly white while poor schools have largely black faculties, according to statistics.

A computer-assisted study by The Associated Press shows the disparity is most obvious in areas struggling with poverty and illiteracy such as the Mississippi Delta.

The racial imbalance among teachers in the state’s public school systems is a concern to education officials, who say students need role models from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds.

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Jerry Knight, a recruiter with the state Department of Education, said the problem occurs in school districts that tend to hire teachers to match the racial identity of their students.

Department of Education figures show that 25 percent of the 30,700 teachers in Mississippi’s public schools are black. Blacks make up about 37 percent of the state’s total population.

”As much as we like to talk about integration, it’s just not there,” Knight said. ”Even if there are no black students in a classroom, there needs to be a mix.”

The Holmes County School District, for example, employs 208 black teachers and administrators and only 27 whites, statistics show. Greenville Public Schools has 355 black educators and 161 whites.

By contrast, the Rankin County School District in one of the state’s more economically developed areas, has 888 whites and 89 blacks. Coastal Jackson County School District employs 555 whites and 14 blacks, the numbers show.

”Certain people don’t want certain other people teaching their children,” Knight said. ”There is a clear correlation between the affluence of a district and its population of teachers.”

Recruitment of black teachers in DeSoto County, a rapidly growing community bordering Memphis, is difficult because nearby inner-city schools pay more, school officials say.

The average starting salary for teachers in Mississippi is about $23,000, but schools in Memphis pay at least $6,000 more, said Charlie Alexander, an assistant superintendent for DeSoto County schools.

Also, said Alexander, fewer blacks are entering the profession, creating a smaller pool of applicants.

”We certainly always have our eyes open for minorities,” said Alexander, whose district employs 1,044 white educators and 81 blacks. ”We recognize the importance. Not only are we seeking more blacks, but we’re looking for more male teachers.”

Alexander said teachers rarely move farther than 75 miles from their home or from where they went to school, and many teachers are former students in the districts where they work.

In DeSoto County, which is 83 percent white, that would naturally lead to more white teachers, Alexander said.

Officials in mostly black Greenville public schools agree with that logic.

Sammy Felton, Greenville deputy superintendent, said the teacher-student ratio reflects the local population.

Felton said efforts are underway to bring more whites and others to Greenville because ”children need to be exposed to diversity so they are capable of moving into the world of work and being productive.”

But he said finding people willing to move to an area with limited employment opportunities is difficult.

”It’s hard to get teachers period, regardless of race, their creed or their ethnic background,” Felton said.

Attracting fully certified teachers is equally challenging for poor districts.

Because many poor districts are unable to offer competitive salaries, they are forced to rely heavily on teachers with emergency credentials, Knight said.

”It’s like we’re putting a Band-Aid on the problem but not fixing it,” Knight said.

Statewide, about 19,000 teachers are white women and 6,400 are black women. White males total about 3,700 and black men total about 1,500.