Portland Career Advancement Program Excludes People With Wrong Skin Color: Superintendent 

Asked whether he thought excluding employees from a career advancement program on the basis of their skin color was racist, Portland Public Schools Superintendent Xavier E. Botana said he did not.

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The school system in Maine’s largest city has been operating a résumé coaching program that is only available to people with the right color skin.

Portland Schools System Superintendent Xavier E. Botana, who announced last week that he’s resigning earlier than he’d previously planned due to the school’s inability to pay hourly employees correctly, confirmed in an email that the school provides expert assistance to help employees advance in their careers — but only if they are not white.

The existence of the race-based career advancement fund first came to light in a report from the Portland Phoenix on Botana’s decision to resign from the school district next year. He joined the district in 2016.

Emails obtained via a Freedom of Access Act request show Botana personally approved spending $250 per hour on a consultant to help improve the resume and cover letter of Farausi A. Cherry, a Deering High School counselor who had unsuccessfully applied for a job as assistant principal at the Lyman Moore Middle School.

Botana only approved the résumé coaching expense because Cherry happens to be black. Any applicants for the job who happened to be white would not have received similar support.

Farausi A. Cherry, Assistant Principal at Lyman Moore Middle School (Source: PortlandSchools.org)

The school system enlisted the help of Gaby Grekin, a Kennebunkport consultant Botana said the district has used in the past.

For $250 per hour, she held a couple of phone calls with Farausi aimed at drawing out his leadership skills and refining his job pitch. The counseling cost taxpayers as much as $1,250.

Farausi had not been successful in his previous attempts to apply for an administrative role within the Portland School system. He has worked extensively in public education in southern Maine, including several roles at Deering High School. It’s unclear why the district passed him over in his previous applications for administrative jobs.

But with Grekin’s help, he finally landed the assistant principal job at Lyman Moore.

In an email, Botana said the district has a dedicated fund set up to provide this kind of help to people who aren’t white. He told the Phoenix the district has set aside $27,000 for the program.

“The resources that we used to support this consulting engagement with Farausi came from the fund set aside to support our BIPOC staff,” he said.

Botana said the fund has also been use to help at least one asian person, though he couldn’t provide the name of that individual.

“I don’t have the list of folks who benefitted from those programs handy and the staff person who runs the program, our Director of BIPOC Career Pathways can’t drop everything they are doing to answer your questions,” he said.

“In our use of the term Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) we include individuals who identify as Asian,” Botana said in an email.

He did not say whether Hispanic people qualify under the district’s definition of BIPOC. He also declined to say whether the district has a written policy regarding which races and/or ethnicities qualify for help through the career advancement program, and which are excluded.

“I am not arguing with you on whether we dedicated the BIPOC funds to support BIPOC staff,” he said. “That’s what it is for and that is how we use it.”

Programs that treat people differently on the basis of their skin color are becoming more common in American public institutions as the progressive idea of “equity” takes hold.

The idea that advancing equity requires discrimination against people on the basis of their skin color was popularized by Ibram X. Kendi, a Boston University professor whose work on “critical race theory” has been influential in public schools and government institutions.

“The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination,” Kendi wrote in his book “How to Be an Antiracist”.

The Portland Public School system isn’t the only public institution embracing with zeal Kendi’s directive.

A medical school in South Carolina is under federal investigation for operating programs that are only available to applicants with the right skin color. Last year, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot caused a scandal when she declared that white journalists would be excluded from opportunities to interview her. And a public school in Massachusetts told white students they were not welcome in a “safe space” it had organized.

The Supreme Court is currently considering a case against Harvard University that will determine whether schools can legally discriminate against white people and asians.

In Dec. 2021, the Portland Public Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to approve a contract extension for Botana that would have kept him in the job through the end of the 2023-2024 school board.

He had previously expressed his intention to leave the district next summer, but on Friday the board accepted his resignation, which will now take effect Jan. 31.

In an emailed statement, Botana cited the district’s ongoing struggle to pay hourly employees properly as part of his motivation for exiting the job. The district has overpaid and underpaid hourly employees in recent pay periods, including lunch ladies and school bus drivers, in an ongoing payroll debacle that has yet to be resolved.

“As you know, the past six weeks have been extremely difficult for the Portland Public Schools,” Botana said.

“While I have worked tirelessly to find solutions and we reached an agreement with the [Portland Education] Association regarding next steps to ensure that all staff are paid accurately and on time, I think it is in the district’s best interest that I step aside and allow new leadership to bring closure to these matters,” he said.

Asked whether he thought excluding employees from a career advancement program on the basis of their skin color was racist, Botana said he did not.

“In fact, I think that not providing support perpetuates the existing racist structures,” he said.

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