A move by three Republican school board members to leave Mecklenburg's two majority-black districts without representation for a year could intensify debate over who will speak for the minorities who make up about two-thirds of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students.
Until October, the nine-member school board had two black members: George Dunlap and Vilma Leake. Dunlap, who represents District 3, resigned when he was appointed to represent that district as a county commissioner. Leake, representing District 2, was elected county commissioner Nov. 4 and will leave the school board in early December.
Tuesday night, when it came time to launch the 20-day application period for Dunlap's seat, Larry Gauvreau moved that both Dunlap's and Leake's spots be left open until the November 2009 election. Kaye McGarry and Ken Gjertsen voted with him, in a move that left some colleagues flabbergasted.
“It astounded me so much, I should have said, ‘Larry, if you will remove yourself we won't fill District 3,'” Chairman Joe White said Wednesday.
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“That had no chance of success,” Trent Merchant, the board's lone unaffiliated voter, said of Gauvreau's motion.
Gauvreau, McGarry and Gjertsen insisted the move wasn't about race or politics but about streamlining the board, a move recommended by a business-based task force created in 2005. Gjertsen agreed that the motion had no chance of success, and said White shouldn't have put it to a vote.
“I was showing support for Larry,” Gjertsen said Wednesday. “I don't believe those districts should be left without representation. (Gauvreau) was making a point that I didn't think he ended up making very clearly.”
Dunlap disagrees, saying Gauvreau's point was clear: “It reinforces the fact that people believe that folks like him don't believe that African Americans ought to have a seat at the table.”
McGarry took umbrage at being questioned about her motive for supporting a move that would have locked in an all-white board for a year.
“It doesn't matter – color, creed or nationality – what's important is that attitude to educate all kids,” she said.
Dunlap says appointing African Americans to the two seats is “a no-brainer for me.”
But the openings have created buzz about whether it's time for Hispanics, the fastest-growing segment of CMS students, to have a voice on the school board. Bill Garcia, former executive director of International House, told Mi Gente newspaper he's considering a bid for the District 3 appointment. He said Wednesday he hasn't decided whether to apply.
Dunlap, who hasn't endorsed a successor, said there's “a need for diverse views to be at the table,” but noted that it could be tough for a Hispanic candidate to win the 2009 election. Hispanics make up only 2 percent of registered voters in District 3.
CMS's 134,000 students are 42 percent black, 34 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic and 5 percent Asian.