Charlotte mayoral candidate Michael Barnes said Friday the city should consider working with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools to ensure schools have no more than 40 percent of its students receiving subsidized lunches, a program Barnes said could desegregate local schools.
Barnes, the mayor pro tem, also said CMS should consider selling surplus land around its schools for affordable housing, an action Barnes said could also bring more diversity to schools.
Barnes’s ideas were among the most provocative at a candidates forum sponsored by the Charlotte Post Friday morning.
“Wake County had a policy where no school could have no more than 40 percent poverty,” Barnes said. “Then the Tea Party took over. We should look at the 40 percent cap.”
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The other mayoral candidates also discussed low-income housing, the best ways to protect the environment, transportation and the recent trial of CMPD officer Randall Kerrick trial. The primary for Republican and Democratic candidates is Sept. 15.
The other candidates in attendance also endorsed the concept of ensuring that black, white and Hispanic students attend school together.
At-large council member David Howard, a Democrat, said the city needs to return to how CMS assigned students when he was in grade school. Howard, 45, graduated from West Charlotte High, which was a diverse school in the 1980s.
“We didn’t value what was good for one child, we valued what was good for all children,” Howard said.
Republican Scott Stone said he is opposed to busing to increase diversity.
“Putting kids on buses isn’t the answer,” he said.
Stone also tried to draw a distinction between him and Edwin Peacock, his competition in the Republican primary. All candidates were discussing the challenges of bringing low-income housing to south Charlotte, and Barnes mentioned the uproar over a proposed Charlotte Housing Authority apartment complex in the Ballantyne area in 2010.
Stone asked Peacock if he would have supported that rezoning.
Peacock, who was a council member at the time, said he couldn’t comment on a hypothetical, since the project was killed before a vote was taken.
Later in the forum, Stone said, “I’m not sure he answered the question. Will (Peacock) support low-income housing in south Charlotte?”
Peacock then said, “Yes, Scott, I will support low-income housing in south Charlotte.”
Peacock said he thought much of the resistance in affluent areas towards subsidized housing is that people haven’t seen examples of successful projects in other parts of the city. He credited Howard, who is an executive with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, for giving him a tour of the city where low-income housing has been successfully integrated. Peacock said First Ward in uptown is a good example.
“If we continue with a NIMBY approach, that’s not going to work over time,” Peacock said.
Candidates were also asked about the best ways to attract new jobs.
Stone and Peacock focused on affordability and low taxes.
Mayor Dan Clodfelter, a Democrat, said the city’s current incentive program, known as a Business Investment Grant, has limits.
“The business incentive program is not a refined tool for getting what we want,” Clodfelter said. “It’s based on the investment in plant and equipment. That’s great, but what we really want is employment.”
Clodfelter said he would rather “recruit talent” to the city, rather than focusing on landing large companies.
“When we get talented people here, they will build the companies,” Clodfelter said. “It has a self-generating economy. We need to focus on that rather than going on a buffalo hunt.”
Former County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat, said she would also focus on recruiting more woman and minority owned businesses.
She said any incentive program needs to have “clawbacks” to ensure taxpayers are refunded if the jobs don’t materialize.