When it comes to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board’s timetable for handling its student assignment review and finding a new superintendent, four plus five does not equal a harmonious nine.
Five members want to extend Superintendent Ann Clark’s expiring 18-month contract so the panel can focus on completing the new student assignment plan. Four others say the board must push ahead with finding Clark’s replacement, even as it handles student assignment.
The five who want to extend Clark’s contract are white. The four who don’t are black.
That’s bad news indeed for Charlotte.
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It means a racially divided board is leading us into a delicate student assignment discussion that’s already kindling racial and socioeconomic divisions in the community. It also doesn’t bode well for the superintendent search, regardless of whether that starts now or nearly a year from now.
We have previously said we do not understand why some African-American activists persist in painting Clark as the architect of the controversial 2010 closings of 10 African-American schools. There is little credible evidence of that.
It tars her as being insensitive to the needs of black children, yet her record suggests the opposite. Her work with Project LIFT, the $55 million public-private effort to boost black schools on Charlotte’s west side, has won plaudits across racial lines. Last year, the Charlotte Post Foundation, affiliated with one of Charlotte’s leading black news outlets, named her as its educator of the year.
Her contract expires July 31. We continue to believe CMS should extend it by a year. That would give the board time to finish the student assignment review late this year.
Trying to land a new superintendent by August would mean compressing a one-year process into six months, even as the board juggles student assignment, its annual budget and potentially a bond campaign.
That’s too many complex issues to tackle simultaneously – especially if you don’t have to.
The 2010 closures should remind us all of how politically treacherous student reassignment efforts can be for superintendents. Those messy battles robbed then-Superintendent Peter Gorman of substantial political capital and helped precipitate his resignation. What top-tier superintendent candidate would relish the idea of landing in the middle of a city’s student assignment debate with no clear idea of how it will turn out?
The board should extend Clark’s contract. Tie it to a specific superintendent search timetable, permit no further extensions and provide no chance for her to keep the job permanently without submitting to the search process. Also, given the divisions already apparent, the process must be transparent.
And one last thing board members should remember: True leadership means bridging our racial divisions, not simply reflecting them.