When we moved to Cranston in the mid-1980’s, Cranston’s population was 95 percent white. Today, 23 percent of Cranston’s population is black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or mixed race, according to the U.S. Census. Unfortunately, Cranston’s city work force has not changed with the times.
The 200-member Cranston Fire Department is all white. The Police Department has seven minority officers out of 165, according to the most recent federal diversity report. Overall, the full time city workforce is just 2 percent minority. And U.S. government reports show no increase in the diversity of Cranston’s workforce since Allan Fung became mayor in 2009.
Cranston is now 11 percent Hispanic, but if a Spanish speaking resident walks into City Hall, only one person can speak with her. Mayor Fung’s chief of staff, a native of El Salvador, runs downstairs to translate.
This is not an unusual event. The U.S. Census estimates 6,000 Cranston residents speak English less than well.
Cranston’s municipal workforce should reflect its population. At least 20 percent of our snowplow drivers, firemen, police and clerks should be non-white. Stable jobs with good benefits should be fairly distributed to all segments of Cranston’s population. And a system that awards too many jobs to insiders and the politically connected must end. A diverse workforce would bring new skills and perspectives to city government.
This is not a simple problem, but Mayor Fung has not made a proposal to improve the situation.
In November, Steve withdrew a proposed ordinance to add five points to the civil service exam scores of new job applicants who speak Spanish or Khmer when Mayor Fung’s Director of Administration, Robert Coupe, said Fung wanted to issue a personnel rule instead. Seven months later, nothing has happened. Coupe says he has been too busy to work on the rule.
The Cranston Schools are doing only slightly better. According to a 2016 government report, only three percent of school department employees are non-white or Hispanic. All 38 principals and assistant principals are white. Less than two percent of teachers are minority group members.
When Len tells stories in the Cranston schools, he sees a United Nations of students, many of whom speak foreign languages at home. Currently 47 percent of Cranston students are non-white. They need role models who look like them. And white students need diverse educators to prepare them for higher education and work.
Mayor Fung and the Cranston School Department should make diversity hiring a priority. Cranston is almost a quarter non-white and its student population indicates the percentage will increase. Cranston High School East and West teachers, guidance counselors and coaches should be asked to identify capable hard working students who want to work for their city. Cranston should award extra civil service points for Spanish speakers and attack barriers that discourage minorities from seeking jobs in the fire and police departments. The school department should not just post openings on the Internet, but actively recruit non-white teachers at area colleges.
Let’s create a Cranston workforce that reflects Cranston’s demographics.
Len Cabral, an internationally known storyteller, and City Councilman Steven Stycos (Ward 1) live in Cranston.