You can fault the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board for many things, but failing to recognize the perils of racial and socioeconomic resegregation isn’t one of them.
For months now, the board and Superintendent Ann Clark have been calling for political, civic and business leaders to rally around Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ ongoing student assignment review and fold it into a broader discussion about economic opportunity, social mobility and diversity.
How has the community’s leadership responded? Not in a way that convinces us it truly understands the grave challenge these issues present for Charlotte’s future.
The school board has been asking for a joint meeting or meetings with Mecklenburg County commissioners, Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg’s six suburban towns. So far, that hasn’t happened.
Everybody’s apparently busy with budget season and the ever-present political fallout from the battles around House Bill 2.
“It’s been kind of difficult to pull (the meeting) together around everyone’s work schedule,” school board chair Mary McCray told the editorial board. “But it’s something everybody is positive about. Everybody’s saying we’ve got to do it.”
And yet, they haven’t. Did they forget the 2014 Harvard study that ranked Charlotte 50th out of America’s 50 largest cities when it comes to economic mobility? Or that the same economists just last year said that poor people’s odds of escaping poverty in Mecklenburg ranked 99th out of 100 large American counties?
Such bleak statistics prompted creation of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, a 21-member group of volunteer civic leaders charged with analyzing the problem. The city, the county and leading charities are supporting the group, but its report isn’t due out until early next year.
Elected officials shouldn’t wait. They ought to start meeting now. These are complex problems that will require a coherent, wide-ranging response. Governments, charities and civic groups will need to work together, rather than in isolation, to answer Charlotte’s social mobility riddle.
The tepid response to CMS’s call to arms has been puzzling. Did the recent parental outcry over fears of “forced busing” make other politicians shy away from CMS on issues of race, poverty and education? We hope not.
McCray said she has been talking with commissioners’ chair Trevor Fuller about setting up the joint meeting. At a recent gathering of politicians at the Charlotte Chamber, she reiterated the need for it.
“Hopefully,” she said, “it will come to fruition.”
People like to say that if something’s a true priority, you make time for it. When it comes to this critically important issue and meeting, our local government leaders need to do exactly that.