Hispanic leaders upset over Latino representation in Prince George's

Upset that there are no Latino members on the newly reconstituted Prince George’s County Board of Education, some Hispanic leaders have demanded that the county devise a plan to increase the number of Hispanics considered for board appointments and county jobs.

Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) said Hispanic leaders have asked Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) to create a task force to examine whether Hispanics — who make up more than 16 percent of the county’s population and about 25 percent of the school population — are properly represented in the county government and the school system. The task force also would offer recommendations on how to boost the numbers.

Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Baker, said the county executive is eager to work with the Hispanic community on the issue.

“The Baker administration, in concert with Latino leaders throughout the county, will be announcing a task force to address this issue in the upcoming weeks,” Peterson said in a statement. “County Executive Baker is committed to diversity and inclusion throughout the county government. He looks forward to working with this task force and hearing their recommendations.”

Peterson said Baker wants the task force’s charge to be broader. While the task force probably will be chaired by Hispanics, it will represent various immigrant groups in the county, including Africans and Asians, and address concerns they have about education, public safety, economic development and county representation as well.

Pena-Melnyk said the idea for the study came in response to Baker’s selections for the Board of Education. In June, Baker appointed two African Americans and one non-Hispanic white to take county-wide seats on the board.

On Wednesday, he selected Lyn Mundey to fill a district seat vacancy. Mundey is black. None of the 13 members of the school board is Hispanic.

Pena-Melnyk said Baker missed an opportunity when he was making selections for the county-wide seats.

“I find it really, I don’t have the words, disappointing,” Pena-Melnyk said. “We have 204 schools and only two Hispanic principals. We have over 9,000 teachers and less than 2 percent are Hispanic. What do those numbers tell you? Do you think that makes sense?”

Pena-Melnyk said some schools in the county have a majority Hispanic student population. The student population at Bladensburg Elementary, for example, is 63 percent Hispanic.

Jaime Contreras, an immigration advocate, union leader and parent of two Prince George’s public school students, said Latino parents and students are not being adequately served by the school system.

“It is important for Latino parents to have someone they can relate to and to talk to them about their issues,” Contreras said. “And it is important for children to have role models.”

Contreras said he noticed a big smile that appeared on his sophomore daughter’s face when they attended a recent back-to-school night at High Point High School and learned that his daughter had two Hispanic teachers.

“She said they inspire her to learn,” he said.

Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA of Maryland, said young Hispanic students feel isolated. Meanwhile, some researchers have suggested that a racially and ethnically diverse teaching workforce could help close the academic achievement gap.

The numbers in Prince George’s schools reflect what is happening across the country.

Nearly a quarter of the public school enrollment in the United States in 2011 was made up of Hispanic students, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of U.S. Census data.

The percentage jumped from about 20 percent in 2005 to about 24 percent in 2011.

Meanwhile, the number of Hispanic teachers nationwide was 7 percent in 2010, the most recent numbers available from the U.S. Department of Education.

Robert Gaskin, the recruiting director for the county school system, said the county has tried to recruit Hispanic teachers by using social media, attending job fairs at colleges where the Hispanic population is high and even traveling to Puerto Rico in the past.

“We’re pretty aggressive,” Gaskin said. “Our outreach is pretty wide.”

As the Hispanic student population grows, Gaskin said, Hispanic teachers are in high demand.

The county is not only competing with jurisdictions in the Washington region that offer higher salaries but also school systems nationwide, he said.

Gaskin said he has seen an increase in the number of bilingual teachers. Seven percent of the 150 people who participated in the school system’s alternative preparation program were bilingual, he said. Gaskin did not know how many of the new teachers who went through the program are Hispanic.