The Community Reparations Commission will hold their next meeting TONIGHT, Monday, March 20th from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm. The meeting is being held at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center Banquet Hall at 87 Haywood Street in Asheville. The public is welcome to attend the entire session. Meeting materials are available here. The meeting will be recorded and streamed here.
The Buncombe County Commission meets this Tuesday, March 21st, 2023 at 5 pm. You can attend the meeting at 200 College Street, Room 326 in downtown Asheville. You can watch the meeting online via Buncombe County’s Facebook page. The full agenda is here.
Use our prepared email template to take action on this week’s item.
Things of concern, more information needed
Follow Up – Joint Presentation from the City and County School Boards, Buncombe County Commission Briefing, February 7th (presentation)
Back in February, we reported on a briefing by City and County school officials, which was part of an update on the County’s “Educated & Capable Community” Strategic Plan Focus Area. (You can read the coverage in the Asheville Citizen Times here.) The report documented the vast disparities in education in both City and County schools between Black students and white students. For example, “13% of Black students in (grades three through eight) were considered proficient in reading, compared to 75% of white students, a 62 percentage point gap.” City Superintendent Jim Causby suggested that “poverty is likely the cause of these gaps.” Gaps exist not just in academic achievement, but also when it comes to discipline. Black students in County schools are 2.5 times more likely than white students to be referred to law enforcement; in City schools, Black students are seven times more likely than white students to be so referred.
In our 2/13/23 GAP Report, which we amended the next day, we asked for data to back up Superintendent Causby’s claim that poverty was the cause of racial disparities in the school system. Among other things, we wondered whether “economically disadvantaged” students of all races received disproportionate discipline and scored lower than other students. We asked: Do Black students who aren’t “economically disadvantaged” have law enforcement referral and test scores on par with their white peers?
Buncombe County Commissioner Amanda Edwards responded to our report and said she had asked for that data and would share it with us. We have since exchanged multiple emails with her (see our full correspondence below), in which she said on several occasions that data would be provided, but that more time was needed. Most recently, she said it would be shared in a forthcoming budget briefing session that apparently hasn’t been scheduled yet. So now, six weeks after our initial request, we still don’t have answers to our questions. For that reason, we are recommending that you reach out to Asheville Superintendent Causby directly. We’d like to know on what basis he claimed last month that poverty was the likely cause of racial gaps in test scores and discipline rates. Perhaps he has access to the data that has so far eluded Commissioner Edwards and ourselves.
Things to do
We encourage you to reach out to Asheville City Schools Interim Superintendent Jim Causby and ask him to share any data he has that explains his claim that the huge racial gaps in discipline rates and test scores are caused by poverty.
You can (a) use the School Superintendent template link to open up an email to adapt, (b) copy and paste the content below, or (c) write your own message to email@example.com.
Follow Up – Asheville City Council Agenda (March 14, 2023): New Business B. Boards & Commissions (Council to determine who, if any, to interview) (Documents)
In our last report, we pointed out that of a total Boards and Commission applicant pool of 35, there were only four applicants of color, and only one Black applicant. We asked a series of questions. We received responses from Council Member Kim Roney and Assistant City Clerk Sarah Gross. We’ve included Ms. Gross’s response (which is more comprehensive) below.
We appreciate the City’s responsiveness to our questions. However, we continue to be concerned that the problem of underrepresentation of people of color on City Boards and Commissions is not being analyzed or adequately addressed. We wonder whether the City has surveyed or interviewed Black and brown community members who have served in these positions, especially those who resigned or didn’t seek to be re-appointed, to better understand their experiences. We wonder whether the City has engaged communities of color to better understand why so few community members apply to be part of these bodies.
Things to do
We are not recommending any action by GAP supporters at this time. We will be following up with the City to better understand the steps being taken to address these challenges. We’ll report back to you when we have more information.
CITY SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT EMAIL TEMPLATE TEXT
You can open this email in your own email program by clicking here. To proceed manually, you can copy and paste the text below into an email and then address it to the City School Superintendent (email address below).
Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Race and Class Data for Student Outcomes
Dear Superintendent Causby,
In your report to the Buncombe County Commission on February 7th, you shared data on the racial disparities in school performance and discipline. You were quoted by the Citizen-Times as stating that “poverty is likely the cause of these gaps.” I am wondering if you have data to support that. For example, do economically disadvantaged students of all races experience higher rates of law enforcement referral and lower academic performance? Have you analyzed the intersection of race and class, to see how students of different races and different economic situations compare in our school systems? Please share those data and analysis as they feel important to legitimately uncovering and examining important disparities that our school systems can address to achieve equity.
Thanks for your leadership,
Correspondence Between GAP and Buncombe County Commissioner Amanda Edwards (Back to Report)
Edwards (2/13/23): I specifically asked during the meeting for the economically disadvantaged data to be broken down further by race. County staff are working both school districts to obtain this information. However, please know that some data cannot be disaggregated due to federal regulations, specifically around free and reduced lunch.
GAP (2/13/23): Thanks so much for responding, Commissioner Edwards, and for asking for that important data. We weren’t able to get a volunteer to attend the briefing, and couldn’t find any documentation on the Buncombe County website, so were relying upon the Citizen-Times story, which didn’t report on your question.
When do you think County staff will be able to report back with disaggregated data (whichever data can be disaggregated)?
Edwards (2/14/23): One additional piece of information that the C-T did not report on is the conversation between Dr. Causby and me about last year’s test results. All students across NC are tested in 14 areas. Our students of color showed growth in 13 of the 14 areas. This is excellent news as students must have growth to become proficient. Unfortunately, the state is only concerned about proficiency which is what the data presented shows. I feel strongly that we must celebrate this success in order to help our students, teachers, and principals feel some sense of accomplishment. I will continue to ask for this information as the data presented doesn’t give the full story of our schools and I hope at some point the paper will cover some of the good things happening in classrooms. Our kids and school staff deserve to feel successful and I hope the community will wraparound them to ensure they have what they need to continue seeing positive growth.
I do not have a date when the disaggregated data will be ready. Staff did assure us they will bring it back, and I want to allow them the time to do the work.
GAP (2/14/23): Thanks for that further information and perspective. We just posted an update to the original report, based on your original email. We’ll share this perspective as well whenever we do an additional update. Please let us know when you have a sense of a timeline for the disaggregated data.
Edwards (2/14/23): Thank you, and I will stay in touch.
GAP (2/22/23): In our Strategy Team meeting this week, a few folks raised questions I was asked to forward to you.
- With the growth you cited for students of color, folks were wondering how that tracked with all the Covid disruption and impact. As you know, many children of color were put at an additional disadvantage in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic disruptions. Is the new growth in those 13 of 14 areas reflective of progress from before Covid, or does it represent growth from where things were during Covid? (The growth is significant either way, we were just looking for more clarity.)
- We also wondered what percentage of the Black students who were suspended also have IEPs. There’s a lot of research that shows that it’s Black disabled children who are most at risk of being suspended or expelled over any other group. We wondered if you could ask staff to pursue that data, along with the other data they are disaggregating.
Edwards (2/23/23): Thanks for reaching back out.
The 13 of 14 was growth that occurred during Covid. That was how it was presented during the budget presentation last May.
I would like to allow the staff the opportunity to respond to what has already been requested before asking them to add additional work. The workload is already significant and I want to be respectful of our current request.
I know from regularly watching BCS and ACS meetings that staff does a good job of updating the school board members and provides a lot of data. It might be worth checking out those meetings to learn even more about our school systems. A lot of the questions that our community are raising are probably best answered through those elected leaders.
GAP (2/23/23): Thanks Commissioner Edwards. We have GAP volunteers who attend all of the school board meetings and report back, so we’ll suggest they continue to be on the look out for data.
GAP (3/16/23): We’re following up on this, since it’s been well over a month since you put your request in for the disaggregated data. Have you gotten any response? If not, is there a timetable? We appreciate your desire not to pressure staff, but are curious why this data isn’t relatively easy to access, assuming that both race and economic data are both already being tracked (which would seem to be the case from the staff report).
Edwards (3/16/23): Thanks for checking back in. It is my understanding more data will be forthcoming during our education budget work session.
The challenge is disaggregating economic data. Federal regulations do not allow schools to collect economic data on individual students which complicates looking at each student by race and economic situation.
GAP (3/16/23): Thanks for that update and clarification. When is the scheduled date for the education budget work session?
Edwards (3/16/23): Meeting dates and topics will be posted here:
(Note: There is no education budget work session scheduled yet.)
Response to Boards and Commission questions from Sarah Gross (Clerk’s Office) (Back to Report)
Thank you for reaching out to City Council and calling out the diversity of Boards and Commissions. I am Sarah with the City Clerk’s Office, and I work closely with the administration of Boards and Commissions; I am grateful for this opportunity to share some updates and initiatives as it relates to the City’s Boards and Commission outreach efforts. We acknowledge we have a long way to go, and we very much welcome ideas and ways to better connect with the Black and underrepresented communities. Below are some responses from Staff to help answer these important questions.
We are curious how the City tracks the racial demographics of its Boards and Commissions, and where that data is published.
Response: To answer the first part of your question, the City Clerk’s Office prepares a demographics report at the end of each year, which is provided to the City Council and reviewed at the Boards and Commissions Council Committee in January. Here is a copy of the 2022 Report. The data is taken from the open text “race” field on the boards and commissions application and the report is compiled manually.
How much of the problem of limited diversity on Boards and Commissions is that communities of color don’t tend to hear about these vacancies? If so, what strategies are being employed to reach out to Black communities specifically?
Response: to help address this issue, and just yesterday, March 14, the Boards and Commissions Committee voted to support the change in the Council appointment process of Boards and Commissions from monthly to four times a year. One of the intended outcomes of the changed schedule is to provide more time to identify communities that are missing from Boards, and to use that information to provide for more robust and targeted outreach.
The Clerk’s Office is working closely with the Community and Public Engagement and the Equity and Inclusion Departments to expand upon outreach efforts. Updates and new initiatives will be provided to the Boards and Commissions Council Committee in the near future. Staff welcomes ideas and ways to better connect to underrepresented communities.
How much of the problem is that most Board of Commissions meetings take place during the workday, thereby excluding those without the privilege of flexible work hours?
Response: Anecdotally we know this is a problem for some; however we do not have any data on this.
I hope this is helpful information.
Sarah Gross, CMC, NCCMC