Is the Santa Monica-Malibu school district’s staff diverse enough?

Board of Education members said during their meeting Thursday that more can be done to make the demographic makeup of the school district’s personnel more closely resemble that of the student population.

Their discussion grew out of a presentation on enrollment data by Mark Kelly, assistant superintendent of human resources, who revealed updated figures on the ethnic background of district students and employees.

“We have a commitment that the staff represents the diversity in our student population,” Kelly said. “We still have work to do on this. We continue to work on that.”

The board’s review of staffing data came as the district continues working to close achievement gaps that have persisted for years along racial lines.

About 30 percent of the 11,000-plus students currently enrolled in the district are Hispanic, according to district figures. But less than 15 percent of certificated staffers and less than 10 percent of SMMUSD administrators are Hispanic.

African-Americans make up about 7 percent of the student body, but just 4 percent of the district’s certificated staff. About 22 percent of classified employees are black, but those positions don’t require teaching credentials.

Meanwhile, although about half of the student population is white, that demographic group makes up nearly 70 percent of the district’s certificated staff and more than 65 percent of its administration ranks.

“If we’re not deliberate about working on these issues, we can stagnate ourselves and our progress,” board member Oscar de la Torre said. “It’s an important conversation for us to have. We can do better. …

“[Students want] people in the institution that can relate to them. We should be conscious and aware that there’s a lot of benefit to having a diverse workforce.”

The district’s hiring of certificated staff in recent years paints a particularly glaring picture. Two-thirds of the 87 new additions in 2014-15 and nearly 70 percent of the new hires in that category this year are white, while Hispanics make up just 13 percent of certificated staff hired over the last three years.

“We’ve been talking about this for a number of years, and I don’t think we’ve succeeded,” board member Jose Escarce said. “We have to do something different. Doing what we’re doing harder or more carefully … isn’t going to change it. We have to do something different.”

Making the district’s staff more representative requires outreach to colleges and universities that are producing qualified future candidates, de la Torre said.

Kelly said SMMUSD can ensure that associations for minority educators are made aware of job openings in the district.

The district should also consider offering scholarships to students who are interested in pursuing teaching careers, de la Torre said.

“We hire people, and then we lose people,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve had a thorough discussion about why that happens. What is our retention level? Are we doing exit interviews? It would be good to diversify our staffing patterns.”

Board member Craig Foster recommended adding the goal of staff diversity to the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan.

“I’m looking for a way for us to commit to it,” he said.

jeff@www.smdp.com