African American workers in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were laid off in numbers higher than their overall percentages, new CMS data show.

While blacks made up 32.8 percent of the workers subjected to layoffs, they absorbed 40.2 percent of actual cuts. Whites, meanwhile, absorbed 53.1 percent of CMS layoffs and made up 62.6 percent of the available pool.

Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans also saw layoffs at rates that were slightly disproportionate, but their overall numbers were considerably lower than those for blacks and Caucasians.

The numbers were gleaned from new data released Wednesday by CMS at the request of and the Charlotte Observer.

Because of state and local budget cuts, CMS earlier this year laid off 1,176 workers in categories ranging from building services to teachers. Other workers, not included in the new data, lost their jobs because of restructuring.

Some African American workers who got layoff notices had voiced concern in community meetings that layoffs were disproportionately aimed at minorities, especially in areas such as building services, where blacks made up 35.5 percent of the workforce.

Gorman defends process

Superintendent Peter Gorman on Thursday told Qcitymetro that he was confident that CMS followed proper procedures. He said the district used outside experts to ensure that layoffs were “fair, legal and consistent.”

“Layoffs are never easy,” he said. “We don’t target particular groups. We looked at what the district’s needs are and made sure we followed the law.”

School board chairwoman Molly Griffin said she had not seen the data and declined to address the numbers specifically. She said the racial effects of the layoffs were not something the school board discussed.

“Certainly there was not intent for there to be any discrimination or anything like that,” she told Qcitymetro. “Certainly we wanted the process to be as fair as possible.”

The CMS data do not paint a complete picture of districtwide layoffs. The numbers exclude nearly 5,000 workers in departments subjected to restructuring. Although some workers in those departments were let go as well, CMS gave no racial data for those groups.

In addition, because layoff totals in some job categories were low — in some cases in the single digits — slight shifts could yield dramatic percentage swings.

To compile the racial data made available, the district used March 2009 as a starting date because layoffs had not yet begun. The March numbers were then compared to layoff totals as of July 1.

The district also provided a second set of numbers as of July 28, after 70 CMS workers had been rehired. Those rehires, however, had minimal effect on the original percentages. (CMS has since announced that it will bring back 286 teachers because state budget cuts were less than anticipated.)

Layoffs by category

In building services, blacks made up 50 percent of those let go and 35.5 percent of available staff. Layoffs in that department, however, totaled only eight — four blacks and four whites. Two white workers have since been reinstated, pushing the black layoff rate to 67 percent.

In the “professional” category, 44.1 percent of CMS workers were African American and 88.9 percent (eight workers) of those laid off were black. One Hispanic worker in this category also was terminated. According to CMS data, none of the 283 white workers in the “professional” category was let go. One of the black workers have since been rehired.

Among the district’s 9,441 teachers, 25.1 percent were African American, and of those let go, 32.6 percent were black. Thirty-two teachers — eight black, 23 whites and one Hispanic — had been reinstated as of July 28.

In some categories, blacks were let go at rates lower than their overall totals.

Among teacher assistants, for example, 48 percent of the available staff was black, compared with 39 percent of those laid off.

In the “technician” category, 42 percent of staff was black, versus 33.3 percent of those laid off.

‘This needs to be publicized’

Former school board member and current Mecklenburg commissioner Vilma Leake said she found it surprising that the current school board had not asked for a racial analysis of CMS layoffs.

Leake, who helped organize some of the community meetings concerning CMS layoffs, has been a vocal critic of the layoff process.

“We need a school board that will be the school board and not one that works for the superintendent,” she said.

Leake said she was not surprised to learn that blacks were disproportionately fired during budget cuts.

“I knew that we were the losers in this process,” she said. “This needs to be publicized. Here we go, facing discrimination again, and this is a black district.”

The racial makeup of CMS student is about 42 percent black, 35 percent white, 15 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian and 4 percent American Indian/multiracial.

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