SACRAMENTO – With this year being an election year, there has been a lot of attention paid to national and local politics this season. And while the battle for the White House and the race for Sacramento’s next mayor are very important, there is another race that is gaining attention among the region’s African American voters.

Four of the seven seats of the Sacramento County Board of Education (SCOE) trustee board are up for grabs and many eyes are focusing on the Area 7 seat currently held by Harold Fong. Fong, who has been on the board for 16 years, is being challenged by former County School Board trustee Roy Grimes.

Grimes has joined the chorus of African American leaders who have expressed frustration over Fong using his seat on the board to grandstand with insensitive language related to African American students. He has called Fortune Schools — the local charter school management organization that has county-wide approval to create 10 charter schools aimed at closing the African American student achievement gap — “segregated” schools and has said by doing so, he (and he alone) was standing on the right side of the issue like Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.

Now, many in the African American community feel his rhetoric has gotten tired and they want Fong gone.

Knee deep into the 2016 election cycle, some in the community are speaking out, explaining that Fong has not represented his African American constituency, has no specific advocacy and engagement plan for outreach, and has as his only action related to his African American constituents a “no” vote to extend Fortune Schools its charter. Fong, who was first elected in 2000, now has many in the African American community questioning what their representative has done to help close the achievement gap and to support African American student achievement — or if he even cares.

“I’ve worked with him and I have to tell you Harold was and continues to be politically tone deaf,” said former SCOE board member Brian Cooley, who served with Fong.

“Harold is probably not a racist. I never experienced that. I’d classify many of his actions as obstructionist or opportunistic,” he added.

FONG CROP

Cooley believes that the heart of Fong’s behavior has been his desire to be seen on the side of those who oppose charter schools.

“From day one he was trying to make a name from himself so he took a very contrarian and even obstructionist view with the goal of getting the attention of various groups who would later support him,” says Cooley.

And about Fong’s claims of reverse racism and his statements about standing with Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks on the issue?

“That just made Black people mad,” Cooley said. “On top of that, he’s wrong. Fortune schools are 61 percent Black and includes significant Latino and Asian American students. The school is an alternative focused on students who are doing the worst; where the achievement gap is a deep chasm. Those children just so happen to be Black and it’s irresponsible to do nothing after decades of failure,” Cooley added. For many in the community, Fong’s posturing has been especially disturbing considering the diverse residents living in the district he represents. Some of the Area 7 communities include: Fruitridge, Greenhaven, Lemon Hill, Meadowview, Oak Park, North Laguna, Parkway, Pocket, Valley Hi, and a portion of South Land Park.

“I have concerns about Mr. Fong’s aggressive attitude toward African Americans and his lack of advocacy in our community,” said Stephen T. Webb, President of the Sacramento Branch of the NAACP. Webb, who assumed the NAACP presidency in 2014, bases his assessment on encounters with Fong that run counter to the demands of many African American parents and students.

Webb says he was also in attendance for the Democratic Central Committee’s endorsement of Fong over Grimes — an endorsement Webb does not agree with.

“Mr. Fong’s record is clear, he’s voted against African American (interests). He hasn’t seemed to be for us,” Webb added.

For those reasons, Webb says he in encouraging African Americans and like-minded voters to let their votes in the June 7 Primary Election speak loudly.

“We have to challenge the board and get ourselves elected,” Webb said. The NAACP’s current program seeks to get young people involved through voter registration and election day activities.“We believe that graduating seniors should have a diploma in one hand and a voter registration card in the other. There are more than 10,000 graduating seniors, if we can get a small percentage of them involved, that will make a difference,” he added.

Cooley agreed.

“Throughout the years Harold had made many public statements about the achievement gap, but when it came time to try something new he was moved by the opposition to charter schools more than his support of his African American constituents. He made a choice and the community should hold him accountable for that,” Cooley said.

Looking back on Fong’s 16 years in office, long-time educator and retired Elk Grove School District administrator, John Taylor simply believes that Fong’s time has passed.

“(Fong) has always been and has continued to be an impediment to the educational progress of African American children,” Taylor said.