Racial bias in schools is alleged

Ex-worker says white employees favored

June 06, 2006|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

The whistleblower who leaked allegations leading to last week's firing of the Baltimore schools' chief operating officer continued his assault against the school system's top leaders yesterday as he hurled charges of institutional racism.

Richard S. Donald, a former data analyst for city schools, appeared on WBAL-AM radio with new details about the fishing trip that led to the dismissal of Chief Operating Officer Eric T. Letsinger.

Letsinger has said he used his own money for the $1,600 daylong trip, which was meant to reward overworked employees. But Donald said a member of Letsinger's staff tried to pay for the trip with money from an account meant to be used for school bus repairs. The money was not used, but questions remain about whether that is because Donald raised the matter publicly.

School system spokeswoman Edie House said that because the investigation into the fishing trip involves personnel matters, the system will not release details of its findings.

Donald, who was fired from his job with the system last fall, has embarked on a campaign in recent months to discredit top system officials - especially those who, like Letsinger, came to the system from City Hall. A statement Donald wrote for his radio appearance yesterday said African-American employees are "being denied resources, support, promotion, advancement and professional opportunities provided to their white co-workers."

Letsinger declined to comment yesterday.

Promotion questioned

Donald, a 49-year-old Liberian immigrant, worked for the system for four years before being fired. He said he was accused of being incompetent after raising questions over a colleague receiving what he perceived as an undeserved promotion.

"When I started to raise the issue and started to ask them about giving me a raise, they decided to just kick me out of the place," he said in an interview after his radio appearance yesterday. "They said I was talking too much."

He said he is awaiting a hearing this month before the Maryland Commission on Human Relations.

House also declined to comment on Donald's dismissal, saying it is the system's policy not to comment "on personnel issues or pending litigation."

Donald says he is one of a number of former and current system employees - many of them black - frustrated over the appointment of young, former city staffers - some of them white - to high-ranking positions despite a lack of background in education. Since Donald left the system, he said, he has had no shortage of people calling him to complain, but few are able to speak publicly as he has.

"People are completely upset in that place," he said. "They have no way to vent their anger. If they did they would be fired, just like me. Many people don't have the guts to do what I'm doing right now."

Boat trip

On May 19, while about 10 school system and city employees were on a boat on the Chesapeake Bay, Donald called in to a program on WOLB-AM radio about the fishing trip. Early the following week, after the receipt of an anonymous letter detailing more allegations against senior system staff, schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland announced an investigation. Donald said he did not write the anonymous letter.

So far, Letsinger is the only system employee who has faced disciplinary action as a result of that investigation. As chief operating officer, he oversaw more than 1,000 employees and made an annual salary of $145,600.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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