School board member wants public to know more about who the district hires for jobs

A school administrator was accused of making racially insensitive comments to an African-American employee about five years ago. His recent promotion at Buffalo Creek Middle School prompted a meeting between two members of the Manatee County School Board on Friday morning.

On Jan. 18, the school district announced that Bradley Scarbrough, an assistant principal at Buffalo Creek Middle, in Palmetto, would soon be the school’s principal. The district interviewed finalists and held a community forum before making its decision, according to a news release.

The Bradenton Herald soon discovered a 2014 investigation by the Florida Department of Education, which ended in a settlement with Scarbrough.

He could not be reached for comment on Friday. Scarbrough previously said the investigation was “in the past,” declining to comment further.

The school board’s newest member, James Golden, called for a meeting with Vice-Chair Gina Messenger on Friday morning. She represents District 1, which includes Buffalo Creek Middle.

Golden asked that Scarbrough’s appointment be taken off the consent agenda and placed under “new business” at their upcoming meeting, allowing for a conversation before the board votes on his pending contract.

Do they hold somebody accountable for an incident that took place several years ago, or do they grant second chances? Golden said the conversation should be a priority.

“My concern is not with him being hired or not being hired,” Golden said. “My concern is that the process ... is as transparent as possible.”

He also called for more communication during the hiring process. When it comes to hiring a new principal in the future, Manatee should make the applicants’ history more accessible to the public, Golden said.

“There is a need to become more sensitive as a community and as a school system to the needs of those who might be marginalized, and the discovery of that marginalization might not occur until after that fact,” he said, commenting on the district’s current hiring process.

The district, he said, could release the applicants’ personnel files if they already work in the district, ensuring residents don’t have to make a records request or pay the associated fees.

After a request from the Bradenton Herald, the school district said it would cost about $64 to scan and redact a copy of Scarbrough’s personnel file. Similar requests have totaled between $42 to $85.

Scarbrough’s investigation is available with a search on the state DOE’s website, under its public disciplinary records. Golden feels the district should gather and provide an applicant’s full history to the public, or point residents to all relevant documents.

“It sounds like what you’re pushing for is just more transparency with the community, and I would always support that,” Messenger responded.

Messenger said she received no public concerns after the news about Scarbrough was published. She also spoke with Priscilla Trace, a county commissioner; and Gretchen Fowler, president of the Parrish Civic Association.

“They both said to me they had not heard anything negative,” Messenger said. “All they heard was glowing things about Mr. Scarbrough.”

After the district announced Scarbrough’s appointment and Golden requested the meeting, Superintendent Cynthia Saunders spoke with Messenger and asked whether she was concerned.

“I said to her that I was very surprised he was made a finalist because of that — because of what had happened,” Messenger said.

“If the community is supporting him and they can get behind him and believe in him, I think that’s important,” she continued.

The alleged incident took place on Nov. 1, 2013, when Scarbrough served as the assistant principal at King Middle School, in Bradenton. An employee said he was angered after his boss made racially insensitive comments.

“Have you noticed all of the students who have been in fights are black?” the DOE report states, paraphrasing Scarbrough’s conversation with the employee.

“All black people fight due to their culture and because they all come from difficult households,” the report continues. “But you are excused because you and your family are educated.”

Scarbrough neither admitted nor denied the allegations. He agreed to a settlement in 2014, which included a letter of reprimand, a $750 fine, one year’s probation and a course in sensitivity or diversity in the workplace.

In the 2017-2018 school year, Buffalo Creek had approximately 985 students, according to data from the state DOE.

About 53.6 percent of students were white, followed by 33 percent who were Hispanic or Latino, 11.4 percent who were African-American or black, one percent who were Asian and one percent who were multiracial.

Board member Charlie Kennedy presented similar districtwide figures during his public comment at Friday’s meeting. He urged the district to be cognizant of diversity and its relation to hiring efforts.

“A goal for the district is to make sure that our employees and staff and leadership looks like our student body,” he said.

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