The Milton School Board has apologized for “ambiguity in communications” to a job applicant who said his candidacy for the position of high school athletic director was rejected without explanation.
Milton High School’s outgoing athletic director and other community members have accused the board of racial bias in the apparent rejection of LeVar Barrino, the director of individualized services at the Boys & Girls Club of Burlington, who would have been the second African-American man to serve as athletic director if hired.
An 11-member hiring committee unanimously recommended Barrino for the position prior to a June 12 meeting at which the school board planned to decide on his contract. Instead of taking action, however, the board tabled discussion of the position until the next meeting.
Two days later, Superintendent Ann Bradshaw, in a letter recently obtained by VTDigger, communicated the board’s inaction to Barrino using language that he and others interpreted as a rejection.
“I write to inform you that your appointment was not acted on by the School Board on June 12, 2017,” the letter reads. “As you know, appointments are not final until approved by the Board and a contract is signed.” Bradshaw concluded, “I wish you every success in the future.”
Barrino received an intent-to-hire letter from the school district prior to the June 12 school board meeting. He then informed Mary Alice McKenzie, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Burlington, that he had been selected for the Milton High School opening and would need to step down from his current position. She planned a going away party for late June.
Following the June 12 meeting, McKenzie says, Barrino “was very concerned” because the board was not moving forward with his contract. He asked McKenzie if he could continue working at the Boys & Girls Club and has retained his position.
School Board Chair Lori Donna wrote to Barrino last Friday that the board “acknowledges that you received inconsistent messages regarding the status of your application,” further stating, “While it was not the intention of the Board to be misleading, the result remains that you reasonably believed that the Board had decided not to proceed with your candidacy.”
Outgoing Athletic Director Michael Jabour, in a resignation letter dated June 16, accused the board of racial bias in rejecting Barrino’s application without an explanation. “Being a fellow black man,” he wrote, “I can only assume that having two consecutive black men in this position was not what the school board intended.”
In the school board’s June 30 letter to Barrino, Donna wrote that “race played no role in how the Board handled this matter. Indeed, the Board members involved in the hiring process were unaware of your race until the outgoing Athletic Director’s resignation letter.”
The board had not previously addressed the racism allegations. In a statement delivered at a special board meeting on June 22, Donna claimed that the board had previously tabled discussion on the athletic director position “because it needed additional information to ensure that the candidate’s specific experience applied to the needs of the district.”
In an email, Barrino’s attorney Elizabeth Miller said her client “did not receive any communication from the Board or District” between the superintendent’s June 14 letter and the board’s public statement on June 22. The day after that statement, she said, “Mr. Barrino received a call from the board chair asking if he would be interested in coming in to interview; no other information was conveyed or sought. He declined to respond to that offer, since it was not consistent with his understanding that the Board had already decided to pass on his candidacy.”
Meeting minutes and video recorded by the Milton Independent and Lake Champlain Access Television show that dozens of community members voiced concerns about racism in the school district during board meetings on June 12, June 22 and June 26.
Black Lives Matter Vermont called for community members to attend the June 22 meeting to comment and hear the board’s statement on the hiring process. Ebony Nyoni, the group’s co-founder, has previously called for Ann Bradshaw to resign as superintendent, citing an early June incident in which a Milton Middle School student was allegedly suspended for reporting being called a racial slur.
Donna’s letter states that Barrino and the school board “have mutually agreed to not proceed” with his candidacy for the athletic director position.
Miller said Barrino has “moved on” and does not expect to comment further. School Board Chair Lori Donna stated in her June 30 letter that the board “will not further discuss or answer questions” about Barrino. Donna did not respond to a request for further comment.
Donna’s letter states that the board “will, however, discuss with the Milton community two major themes that surfaced during this process: the hiring process at Milton schools, including the verbal and written correspondence received by candidates, and the broader concerns of the effect of racism on our schools.” The board has not yet announced a date for this discussion.