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Lowell Seeking Help in Hope of Diverse Hirings

January 22, 2019

LOWELL -- To find a human resources director able to bring diversity to the district’s staff and streamline the hiring process, the School Committee wants outside assistance.

But finding an organization to help, so far, has been unsuccessful, according to school administrators.

Interim Chief Financial Officer Billie Jo Turner said the district sent requests for proposals to aid in the hiring process to four organizations on Jan. 11, but had received no responses as of Jan. 16.

“We have reached out and we are looking for ideas on where to reach out,” she said.

The announcement came after speeches from parents and teachers on the need to bring diversity to a district where 70 percent of the students are people of color, but 91 percent of teachers are white.

“We are sending the message that teachers are jobs for white people and I know that’s not the message we want to be sending,” said Katie Irwin, a substitute teacher.

Parents asked for action, not just talk, to bring more diversity to the district’s staff. An audit of the department released last year found a need for a more diverse staff, improved transparency and a less cumbersome hiring process.

The district has not had a permanent human resource director since former director Anne Sheehy requested a transfer to a teacher position last February. After the departure of the assistant human resource director late last year, only one person remains in the department.

The School Committee approved setting aside $30,000 to hire a firm to find candidates for the director position over the summer.

The item was taken out of this year’s budget amid the district’s financial crisis, though after the discussion at last week’s meeting, Turner said she will submit a transfer to once again fund this expenditure.

School Committee member Connie Martin suggested expanding the search from the four firms that did not respond to companies with specialties besides education.

“These are all organizations that are very insulated within the educational realm and I don’t think we need to be limited in that way,” Martin said. “I think that for this HR position we can really cast a broader net and really get someone in here with the HR expertise that is specific around diversity and then have them apply it within an educational environment.”

Also on the agenda:

* Mayor William Samaras requested the Lowell High School Social Studies Department work with the Lowell Historic Board on crafting a more fitting testimonial to display with the portrait of Benjamin Butler in Lowell City Hall

* School Committee member Robert Hoey moved to pay all unaffiliated staff the amount unions received. The School Committee approved a raise included in this year’s budget for Operations and Maintenance Director Rick Underwood, which he never received.

* The School Committee approved a resolution supporting a statewide effort to reform school funding.

* Hoey requested a report of how many 51As, reports related to abuse, have been filed by the district in the 2018-2019 school year.

* School Committee member Dominik Lay made a motion to schedule a technology subcommittee meeting to review the district’s current technology and anticipate future needs.

* Hoey requested a report on how many teachers requested transfers or departed from the district in the past five years.

* The district responded to a request from School Committee member Gerry Nutter to condense February and April vacation to one week in March. A poll of staff conducted by the district found 22 percent were in favor while 78 percent are against.

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins

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