Johnston School Board Postpones Approving an Equity Audit

Sept. 12 Johnston School Board meeting/Starting Line staff

After several contentious meetings about the issue, the Johnston School Board voted 1-6 on Monday on an approval of a district equity audit, postponing a project led by former DEI director Louis Fountain who resigned in August.

According to some board members, the concern wasn’t with the audit but with Iowa City-based West Wind Education Policy being the company to conduct it. Multiple board members said they were open to writing a request for proposal (RFP) to allow other companies to make bids to conduct the district’s audit.

Before voting “no,” board members Alicia Clevenger, Jennifer Chamberland, and Soneeta Mangra-Dutcher went on record saying they supported the district doing an audit. Board president Katie Fiala, who voted “yes,” also said she wanted an audit.

Board members Derek Tidball, Clint Evans, and Deb Davis voted “no” and previously questioned the necessity of the audit. All three ran on a conservative ticket last fall and signed the “1776 pledge” before being elected.

The question of the audit will be revisited in the future once the school board reconsiders how it will be conducted.

“I am 100% in favor of an equity audit. It is absolutely something that I believe the school district needs, something that we should really start right away,” Mangra-Dutcher said. “I do trust that Louis did his homework in finding this company and doing the work behind it.”

“However, I would entertain the idea of an RFP because I think, to bring the board together, I think we should all have a say in what we’re asking for,” she continued.

West Wind has been in business for more than 20 years. It’s done audits around the country and for in-state school districts including Ankeny, Iowa City, and Linn-Mar.

The issue with West Wind began in previous board meetings but on Monday Tidball moved to postpone the approval indefinitely. He said he doesn’t trust West Wind to objectively come up with results to help everyone in the district because the company approaches equity audits by acknowledging the existence and influence of structural racism and unconscious bias. His motion was seconded by Davis.

“I find their stances on a lot of things, especially with the lens they look through on determining the condition of a school district,  I personally consider them immoral,” Tidball said.

“When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” he continued later. “Everything to them is implicit bias. Everything to them is white privilege. Everything to them is racism.”

Tidball voiced many of those concerns at the previous board meeting on September 12.

Tidball also said West Wind President Circe Strombo didn’t have evidence of an equity audit’s effectiveness, and the school board hadn’t considered multiple bids or providers.

Part of the reason for the lack of bids is that the audit process was initially handled by Fountain, who vetted West Wind and worked with the group before he resigned from the district.

Davis and Evans said they had similar concerns and supported Tidball’s amendment because of them.

Fiala, the only “yes” vote on hiring West Wind, said she looked at the West Wind proposal as any other administration recommendation, so she was comfortable with using the company for the audit.

“This is an administrative recommendation by our equity director,” she said. “So he’s done the work over the past year to make this recommendation. And we accept administrative recommendations all the time.”

 

Nikoel Hytrek
09/27/22

Have a story idea or something I should know? Email me at nikoel@iowastartingline.com. You can also DM me on Twitter at @n_hytrek

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