At a special meeting Dec. 3, District 200 administrators will seek board approval to allow a firm to conduct an equity audit in the district. But LeVar J. Ammons, the district’s executive director of equity and student success, will have to persuade a D200 school board majority that is concerned that the audit may not tell them anything new about Oak Park and River Forest High School’s racial and cultural challenges.
In a Nov. 19 memo, Ammons said the equity audit is designed to “collect and analyze data that will identify strengths of District 200 as well as the practices that maintain racial inequity at every level of the institution.”
During a regular school board meeting on Nov. 19, where the board discussed the proposed audit, Ammons said members of the District Equity Leadership Team identified and vetted nine prospective candidates to conduct the audit before settling on the Chicago consulting firm Bea Young Associates, LLC.
Ammons said the firm’s namesake, Bea Young, has been “a pioneer in racial equity work” going back to the mid-1960s and early 1970s. He said Young helped conduct cultural audits for a number of districts, such as Plainfield Unified School District 202.
Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said during the Nov. 19 meeting that the district was able to bypass a formal request for proposal process, because the audit is a specialized service and thus exempt from the RFP rule.
If the board grants approval at Thursday’s meeting, the district will pay the firm no more than $45,000 to conduct one-one-one interviews and focus groups with various Oak Park and River Forest High School stakeholders. The cost will come out of the district’s budget and the district will not need to raise new revenue to cover the expense, Pruitt-Adams said.
Ammons said the audit process would take approximately six to eight weeks to complete. As part of the audit process, the district and Bea Young will create a team to collect and analyze quantitative and qualitative data. Bea Young will also facilitate a range of one-on-one interviews with administrators, including Ammons and Pruitt-Adams, board members and staffers, along with focus groups.
The audit process should result in written reports of the audit results that will “identify how racial and cultural perspectives impact student opportunity and achievement” and “recommend strategies for advancing racial equity work in the district.”
But most board members, while supportive of a racial equity audit, were concerned that the administration had not conducted an RFP process to select the firm that was ultimately chosen. The board also worried about possibly spending $45,000 on an equity audit that, once completed, will only tell them what they already know about the high school.
“I guess I’m a little surprised that we’re starting at what feels like such a preliminary place, when all of the evidence that led us to have an Office of Equity and Student Success, and to have a racial equity policy, was because of what we [already] know about the racial disparities in belonging and achievement,” said board member Jackie Moore. “So, I’m just trying to make sure we’re not starting too far back and not utilizing data we already have.”
Moore and board member Ralph Martire were also vocal about the lack of a formal RFP process in selecting the chosen firm, although they both emphasized they were not casting any aspersions on Bea Young.
Martire said the consultant “could be great,” but worried that without having launched a formal RFP process, the district may have “missed an opportunity” to cast a much wider net. Echoing Moore, Martire said he’d much rather the firm drill into “our system and analyze our system’s barriers” to racial equity and devise “evidence-based resolutions to those flaws” rather than identifying racial and cultural issues that many district officials already know exist.
Board member Tom Cofsky said he would like to see “the work product of the consultant” from the other districts that Bea Young and Associates has worked with. He also questioned whether or not the firm will provide the “right assessment or are we going to get a pandemic version of something that is not really what we need to see?”
Ammons said he would talk to Bea Young and Associates about providing the results of its prior work ahead of the Dec. 3 meeting and acknowledged Cofsky’s concerns about the pandemic, adding that, while some aspects of the audit process may actually be more amenable to a remote work environment, he’ll still talk with the firm about addressing possible pandemic-related challenges.
Board member Gina Harris was the bluntest among board members in voicing her concerns about the equity audit, as the administration was currently proposing the measure.
“I love the idea we’re going to do an equity audit, because there is some valuable things we can get out of it in terms of understanding where the system has flaws,” she said. “The challenge is, we know the answers to these questions already. I’m just a little frustrated … We can look at the data we already have, we can look at it historically … and see what is working and what’s not.
“Unless we’ll have an equity audit to give us deliverables that say this is what you need to do, so students can stop experiencing racism in your school, I’m not going to be thrilled with an equity audit, especially not for $45,000. It has to give us concrete ways that the system needs to be altered, so that students can stop having the experiences they’re having.”