We won't question the motives behind Charlotte-Mecklenburg School member Larry Gauvreau's move Wednesday – with the support of two colleagues – to leave vacant two district seats on the board for a year. We'll just call it what it was – absurd.
The people in those districts – District 2 and District 3 – deserve a representative to speak for and about their interests. It is reprehensible that other elected officials would try to take that voice away from any citizen.
The issue came up because two members are leaving the school board to become members of the Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners. District 3 representative George Dunlap was appointed to fill the seat of Valerie Woodard, who died a month ago. Vilma Leake won election to the board on Nov. 4.
The two are the only blacks on the board, and represent majority black districts. With their absence, the board would be all white.
We believe the school board should be diverse, particularly given that CMS's student population is 42 percent black, 34 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic and 5 percent Asian. Having voices on the board from such diverse communities provides better insight into the needs of students from those communities.
But keeping these district seats vacant for a year until the next election would be wrong regardless. The current system provides for representatives from six districts. All those districts should have representatives until, and unless, a new system is put in place.
Gauvreau said he wanted to keep the seats vacant to streamline the board, a move he noted was recommended by a business-backed task force headed by former mayor Harvey Gantt and bank executive Cathy Bessant in 2005.
Indeed, that was one of the task force's recommendations and a controversial one that did not gain community-wide support. The group thought the move would foster a less divisive, less parochial board. Their plan called for six of seven representatives to be elected from districts by a combination of district and countywide votes. First candidates would run in a district primary. Then each district's two top vote-getters would face off in a county-wide vote. In other communities, such a system in which members are elected countywide has resulted in boards with few, if any, minority members.
Such a change in representation should not be taken lightly. School board chairman Joe White said he was “astounded” that Gauvreau brought it up. We're disappointed Ken Gjertsen and Kaye McGarry supported it. It is worth noting that Gauvreau did not ask to keep a seat vacant when Trent Merchant came aboard in 2006 , replacing at-large member Kit Cramer. He should not have done so this time either. Thankfully, the five other board members respected the voting public, and voted down his unwise proposal.