By Chris B. Bennett
At a time when we are looking for more Black male role models, Black male teachers and mentors, it appears that the Seattle Public School District (SPS) is literally dissecting the DNA of Black males out of their system.
I’ve searched low and high, and I can attest that it is hard to find a Black male in a prominent or high-profile position within SPS who feels confident about their long-term, and in some cases short-term, employment status with the District. And for good reason. Recently, two, high-ranking officials within the district, both African American males, were demoted, a move that some observers believe was without proper reason. One was able to find a position with a neighboring school district, and the other is scheduled to have his last day with the district at the end of this month.
In addition to the two men referenced above, a third top African American official, SPS Athletic Director Eric McCurdy, is scheduled for termination. SPS announced two weeks ago that McCurdy, who has served as athletic director since 2010, will be leaving the district at the end of 2018. His removal by SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau is, according to reports, related to a $500,000 settlement the district reached with former employee Krystyana Brame, who alleged McCurdy created a hostile work environment that caused her to leave her job in 2016.
According to a lawsuit filed by McCurdy last week, the district’s initial investigation concluded that McCurdy did not violate any policies. In addition, according to McCurdy’s attorney, an EEOC complaint filed by Brame drew the same conclusion. However, Brame subsequently filed an appeal of the district’s decision to the SPS Superintendent, after further investigation the district determined that McCurdy had violated district policy. McCurdy denies any wrongdoing as it relates to the case. However, the one thing that is most glaring about the settlement besides the amount ($500,000) was the fact that the district did not have Brame sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). For those that don’t know, the signing of an NDA is pretty much common practice for settlements, especially ones that require a large payout. The elephant in the room wants to know who in the district authorized such a settlement without an NDA and why?
Could it be because the district wants to get away from what some would term as “inner-city” sports programs (i.e. football and basketball), but couldn’t do so because of the moves that McCurdy was making (signing an apparel agreement, securing a $2.74 million grant that made is possible for all athletes in the district to participate in sports for free instead of having to pay to play; restructuring and reviving the Metro football league — which was pretty much laying in the coroner’s office taking its last breath– to a level of prominence by bringing all of the SPS schools back into the league and attracting/maintaining the membership of schools like Eastside Catholic, Bainbridge, Bishop Blanchet, Seattle Prep, an O’Dea; and embracing and expanding the Memorial Football Classic, which brought top teams, both from the state and outside of the state, to square off with teams from Seattle) was making it more difficult to get away from football (primarily based on cost and low levels of participation at many schools prior to McCurdy’s tenure) and to concentrate on “emerging sports” like soccer?
Could it be because the district wants to sell Memorial Stadium to provide a temporary infusion of cash to fill gaps in their budget? A move that McCurdy would not support, when he was asked about a possible sale of the property by district officials, because of the potential that the facility has to the SPS Athletic Department as a whole. Not to mention that McCurdy had led an initiative to raise money for and to install a new scoreboard at the stadium. The old scoreboard, which dates back to the 90’s, was such an eye-soar that it was an embarrassment not only to the district, but also to the teams, coaches and players who played there.
Could it be because the district wants to move the athletic department, which operates outside of the district in its own office, back under the direct supervision of the district at the John Stanford Center because they see a potential revenue stream that they can now utilize to support any and everything not related to supporting marginalized students?
Or is it the district taking advantage of an opportunity to send the same apparent message to Black men working in the district that many believe they’ve been sending Black male students in the district for years – this ain’t the place for you… you’re the wrong hue for our crew!
The only people who know the answers to these questions right now are the puppet masters behind the scenes pulling on the strings of SPS Superintendent Juneau. On her Superintendent page on the SPS website, Juneau, who began her tenure July 1 of this year, says “During the next few months, I look forward to listening and learning from you. I truly believe that together, Seattle Public Schools can be the best public education system in the nation – providing every student the education and future they deserve.”
It would be nice to know which knee slapper and tear jerker she is listening to because by most accounts she has yet to make a significant effort to reach out, engage and obviously listen to the African American community. And as it relates to the future that you deserve, one could make the case that if you are a Black male working in the district that one day soon you could very well find yourself holding a sign on I-5 that says “will work for food.”
Through the eyes of an ink barrel, may peace be unto you!
Chris B. Bennett is an award-winning journalist and co-publisher of The Seattle Medium newspaper. You can follow him on twitter @The_inkbarrel.