We’ve been puzzled, like a lot of folks, about education being a big part of Charlotte’s mayoral campaign. The mayor has no direct impact on education funding or policy, of course, but that hasn’t stopped candidates from talking and running ads about how friendly they are to schools.
There’s one way, however, that a mayor actually can have an impact on local education. Current mayor and former candidate Dan Clodfelter noted it during the Democratic primary when he talked about the mayor having a voice in important community conversations.
Both candidates, Democrat Jennifer Roberts and Republican Edwin Peacock, agree with this. So we asked them separately this past week about the biggest education conversation the city and county will have in the upcoming year – how to better integrate Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Specifically, as the school board considers how to bring diversity to more schools, should forced busing be one of the options? Community activists are pushing for it. Some parents, and some school board members, have publicly said no.
Ultimately, it’s an option that will roil the school board and the community. What do the people who want to lead our city think?
Peacock treaded carefully.
“I don’t see staying tone deaf to it,” he said. “I see being very cognizant of the impact it could have.”
But would he consider busing a viable alternative?
“I was bused from Lansdowne to First Ward, so I experienced one generation of it, and I don’t think we’re looking at the same segregation subject along the same lines as we did in the ’70s,” he said. “The question I would ask is ‘what type of busing plan are we talking about?’
“You’ve got to walk very gingerly on that.”
Roberts was much more direct.
“Studies have shown that diversity is the best experience for children because they’re going to grow up in a world that is diverse, that is not even what it was 30 years ago,” she said.
“If you’re going to teach them to be adaptive and to be able to learn and to be able to overcome and work with that change, they have to be in diverse environments.”
Diversity doesn’t happen overnight, Roberts said. Housing patterns have direct influence on concentrations of poverty, which leads to concentrations of poverty in schools. “So we have to have the conversation on housing,” she said, “and we have to have the conversation on transportation.”
That conversation, she said, should include both voluntary and mandatory busing. She wants that discussion to include ways to segment the county so that schoolchildren aren’t bused from Davidson to Ballantyne. “We have to be realistic,” she said.
But, she said, CMS and the city should at least consider the busing option.
“Are we ready to go straight mandatory?” she said. “That’s a community conversation. I’m willing to have that community conversation. I don’t know the answer to that.”
Peter St. Onge