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Diversity office cut in budget for schools

Efforts to support multiculturalism will be spread out among educators and administrators.
Tuesday, July 6, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:12 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Public schools in Columbia will have fewer resources to address issues involving diversity and race in the coming school year.

The 2004-05 budget for Columbia Public Schools, passed by the school board on June 14, eliminates the district’s Office of Multicultural Programs. Superintendent Phyllis Chase said, “It’s not the job of one office to address multicultural education.

Chase predicted the cut would not create an additional burden on teachers and administrators.

Multiculturalism was a big issue in 1993, when the district’s Committee on Multicultural Issues grappled with defining multiculturalism, hiring strategies and providing students with culturally appropriate reading lists. The district established an Office of Multicultural Programs in 1994 to address issues such as cultural sensitivity, racism and diversity in schools.

George Frissell, chairman of language arts at Hickman High School, was Hickman’s representative to the Committee on Multicultural Issues. He said the office helped teachers be more inclusive in their classes.

“You might have a situation where teachers don’t have experience with different cultures and therefore students don’t see themselves in the curriculum,” Frissell said.

Skip Deming, assistant superintendent of curriculum instruction, said elimination of the Office of Multicultural Programs means efforts to support multiculturalism will be spread among principals, department chairs and district coordinators and directors.

“This is possibly more work, but I hope that these people are engaging in this work already,” Deming said. “Looking at these issues is not something separate and apart from what they’re doing.”

By eliminating the office, the school board and superintendent reflect their expectation that all teachers and administrators are fully equipped to recognize when non-dominant cultures are excluded from course curricula and to deal with problems rooted in racial tensions.

“Some of our schools have between 40 and 60 cultures represented,” Deming said. “The multicultural office tried to help staff and students look for the teachable moment when they could bring multiculturalism into a subject, like talking about the metric system in math or a people’s style of dress in social studies.”

Patti Watts, an 11th-grade U.S. history teacher at Hickman, said that in a school district that includes students from all over the world, it was useful to have an office coordinating diversity efforts.

“This will leave a big hole in the district,” she said.

The district will save about $70,000 by eliminating the office’s full-time coordinator position and an accompanying half-time employee, said Jacque Cowherd, deputy superintendent for administration. In the future, teachers and administrators will come directly to the Office of Curriculum and Instruction when they have questions or concerns about multicultural issues. Chase said Naylor will continue working for the district on a contractual basis.

Deming said that in developing the budget for the fiscal year, which began July 1, Chase tried to cut only those programs that were not directly related to teacher/student instruction.

“We still have a lot to accomplish when it comes to awareness and prejudice, both racial and sexual,” Deming said. “Without the multicultural department, we are losing support. We’re not expecting to have everything we had before.”


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