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Salt Lake School Board member files complaint claiming west side discrimination

Published: Wednesday, May 14 2014 4:05 p.m. MDT

Michael Clara talks with judge Andrew Valdez before being sworn in as a new member of the Salt Lake City School Board at their offices in Salt Lake City Tuesday, January 8, 2013.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake City School Board member believes the district's policies for hiring school principals unfairly excludes input from parents on the city's west side.

Board member Michael Clara on Monday filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, hoping to urge correction of the issue.

He said by not creating school selection teams to screen and interview candidates on the district's diverse west side — as is commonly done at east side schools — the district is effectively excluding the voice of minority groups.

"This is discriminatory when you allow the more affluent parents on the east side to be part of this, you apply the policy to them but then you say the parents of color in my neighborhood can’t do that, can’t be a part of that process at their school," Clara said.

When he approached his colleagues on the school board about the selection process, and particularly the hiring of a new principal at Parkview Elementary, Clara said he was told that the policy for selecting principals is different for schools that are part of the district's turnaround schools program.

But Clara said that the district's turnaround schools are largely located in Salt Lake City's more diverse neighborhoods on the district's west side.

"If that’s going to be your excuse, that because they’re part of that program, that’s only going to affect Title I schools," he said.

Salt Lake City School District spokesman Jason Olsen said in an email that Parkview Elementary is one of the schools involved in the University of Virgina Partnership for Leaders in Education Initiative, a program aimed at improving struggling schools.

He said the initiative focuses on leadership developement at the local school level and the district's ability to help schools implement change.

"Salt Lake City schools which are part of the UVA initiative set up a team of district administrators, human resources personnel, other district representatives and consultants from the UVA partnership to recommend a person to hire as principal," Olsen said.

He said district officials do not believe any policies were violated and "adamantly disagree" with Clara's accusations.

School Board President Kristi Swett did not return requests for comment on Wednesday.

Clara has filed several complaints against the district, both before and during his time as a member of the school board. He said his tendency to challenge the school board has earned him a reputation for being outspoken, but he adds that his efforts have effected change.

Previous complaints have dealt with the ability of district employees to work with English language learners and for school facilities to be used by local Boy Scout troops.

More recently, Clara has filed complaints alleging that attrition and staffing has led to inexperienced teachers being employed at west side schools and that hostile work environments exist for school nutrition employees.

"One of the things that gets lost here is I don’t just go file a complaint," he said. "I can demonstrate that I started at the basic level to try and solve this."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com

Twitter: bjaminwood

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