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Comments on Superintendent Ann Clark could lead to CMS board confrontation

Superintendent Ann Clark speaks at Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences as part of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools administrators' back-to-school media briefing on Tuesday, August 18, 2015.
Superintendent Ann Clark speaks at Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences as part of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools administrators' back-to-school media briefing on Tuesday, August 18, 2015. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Tuesday’s school board meeting could get messy. There’s a good chance that a group of angry citizens will show up and be denied a chance to speak their mind.

I’ve been reporting on the tension over talk that some board members and community leaders would like to extend Superintendent Ann Clark’s contract past this summer. Colette Forrest, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools parent who is African-American, has sent several mass emails urging people to oppose that push, saying it’s led by “White Male Republicans” in a manner that shuts out the black community. She detailed a list of concerns with Clark, including Clark’s lack of a doctoral degree, her long tenure with CMS and Forrest’s contention that Clark was “the architect in closing 10 African-American schools” five years ago.

Those racially tinged tensions have continued to escalate.

The citizens of Mecklenburg County deserve better than this type of garbage you are sending out.

School board member Paul Bailey in an email to a parent who has been criticizing Superintendent Ann Clark

Paul Bailey – a south suburban school board member who is, yes, white, male and Republican – sent Forrest this response: “The citizens of Mecklenburg County deserve better than this type of garbage you are sending out. I know the Board deserves better considerations. You evidently have some type of vendetta to resolve internally and I would appreciate it if you would resolve your personal issues first then come to the board with true and accurate statements along with realistic solutions.”

Forrest forwarded that message to her email group, and it’s safe to say that didn’t help matters.

State Rep. Kelly Alexander, a Mecklenburg Democrat who is black, forwarded Forrest’s message under his letterhead last week, urging constituents to “stand up for your babies, grandbabies, nieces and nephews enrolled in CMS public schools.”

I join Ms. Forrest in her stated position that hiring an individual from outside of the institutional culture of CMS would be best for the students.

Peter Wherry, pastor and leader of a regional Baptist association, joining the opposition to extending Clark’s contract

Peter Wherry, pastor of Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist Church and leader of the United Missionary Baptist Association of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, which represents about 40,000 people, rebuked Bailey in an email copied to board members and reporters: “I write to decry the intemperance and unprofessional, unusual, personal disrespect of your very terse response to this citizen, parent, voter and human being. Your tone and comments failed completely to address the issues she put forward (which I would have respected) and opted instead to attack her personally.”

Wherry said he agrees with Forrest’s points, plans to bring speakers to Tuesday’s meeting and believes that “unless we improve CMS soon, impacts will be dire on the growth trajectory in our great city.”

Here’s the catch: School board rules don’t allow speakers to talk about individuals.

Board Chairperson Mary McCray opens every comment period with a warning that “we ask that individual CMS employees or their families not be addressed in your comments” and that “the board reserves the right to cut off any speaker who violates these rules.” During the September comment time, she twice interrupted a speaker who started to veer into the personal.

They can’t disparage any employee of CMS.

Board Chairperson Mary McCray on the rules for public comments

When I asked last week about people who want to talk about Clark, McCray said she’ll enforce the rules: “They can’t disparage any employee of CMS,” and if they do, “the chair will cut them off.”

If this doesn’t seem thorny enough already, consider that McCray is running for re-election. Forrest is a supporter who has sent two emails on behalf of McCray’s campaign, though she says that she is not paid by the campaign and is not speaking for McCray on the Clark matter.

About half a dozen people had signed up to speak about the superintendent search Friday, a number that could grow by the time the meeting starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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