John McGinnis. Long Beach Unified School District photo.

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by John McGinnis, Long Beach Board of Education member from 2010 to 2018, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

Dr. Jill Baker’s appointment as the first female superintendent in the 135-year history of Long Beach Unified School District is cause for celebration and alarm. The celebration is obvious. Young students, both girls and boys, have another role model who exemplifies how education, hard work and commitment to others can lead to positions of leadership. Those qualities combined with personal virtues like integrity and humility will lead to respect and rewards — well, unless maybe you’re a woman. And that’s the cause for alarm.

Before Dr. Baker has started her first day as superintendent, a few male voices are planting words to undermine her success. A hundred years after winning the right to vote, women still face obstacles to success. Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1968, and the first African American candidate for a major party nomination for president in 1972, said, “Of my two handicaps, being female put many more obstacles in my path than being black.” I take Representative Chisholm at her word with respect to her own personal life experiences. Other women of color may have had different life experiences. But what I do know is that today Dr. Baker, while white, faces misogynistic obstacles similar to Shirley Chisholm’s.

The men in Dr. Baker’s path want her to decline a salary that is significantly less than the average salary many men earn as superintendents of even smaller school districts. They want her to wait to earn as much as a man, wait until better times come, wait until she brings more than her four graduate degrees and more than her 30 years as a Long Beach teacher, principal and district administrator to the job she’s been prepared to do for years.

Asking African Americans, immigrants, Dreamers and women to wait, to be patient, is a tired ploy. Martin Luther King, Shirley Chisholm, Cesar Chavez and others made clear that you don’t end bigotry by waiting it out. You end it by calling it out — especially when men’s arguments are couched in racist or misogynistic language. So, let’s ask these men some questions.

Doug Krikorian, in a recent post, objected to Dr. Baker’s salary. He couldn’t settle for rational arguments. Instead, he referred to Dr. Baker’s “restrained manner with her gentleness, kindliness and sweetness.” He referred to her as, “this caring, gracious lady,” “this demure, genial lady.” So, Mr. Krikorian: Can you not see that by resorting to these adolescent smears you not only insult Dr. Baker, but you demean every female student in Long Beach from young girls in kindergarten to young women in high school?

Then Chris Callopy, executive director of the Teachers Association of Long Beach (TALB), employed a similar, albeit toned-down, version of Mr. Krikorian’s approach. A recent TALB website post asked “Jill,” not Dr. Baker, “Jill” if she would show some “graciousness” and decline the salary the school board offered her. So, Mr. Callopy: Did you intend to talk down to the first female superintendent of LBUSD? Are you insensitive to the patronizing, condescending, chauvinistic tone of that question? And also, why did you send a political mailer to constituents of LBUSD school board members Diana Craighead and Megan Kerr, telling their voters to contact the only two female members on the board, not the men, and ask them, “why they are handing out raises instead of focusing on the future of our kids?” Did you think you could politically intimidate Mrs. Craighead and Mrs. Kerr? I worked with those women. Good luck with that.

Finally, before Dr. Baker has to answer for accepting her compensation, Dr. Juan Benitez should answer for accepting generous political contributions from TALB in his two runs for school board. So, Dr. Benitez: Are those tens of thousands of dollars in gifts from TALB the reason you are the only voice on the school board supporting Mr. Callopy’s political agenda rather than Dr. Baker’s compensation? Your voters also have a right to know.

Of course, they claim these aren’t attacks on Dr. Baker, this isn’t about gender equity. Right.

Shirley Chisholm, who also earned a master’s degree in education from Columbia University said, “The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: It’s a girl.” After serving eight years on the Long Beach School Board, I developed a deep respect for Dr. Baker and other female leaders of all colors and backgrounds in district and school administration. I’ll never run for political office again, but if I were on the board today, I would move that Dr. Baker be paid not one dollar less than the highest paid male superintendent in California. She’s worth more, but I’d settle for gender equity.

This is not the year to divide our community over one woman’s salary that represents less than one-half of one-tenth of one percent of the district budget. We should unify in support of Dr. Baker, her executive team and the school board as they work to open a new school year in the midst of a public health crisis, a race relations crisis, and, yes, an economic crisis. They are doing this difficult work to give teachers and students the best possible opportunities for success. In that spirit, we should all support Dr. Jill Baker’s work and reward it accordingly.