Board Chairperson Mary McCray, left, and member Elyse Dashew. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools board meeting included a public hearing on student assignment and a vote on the superintendent search. Mark Hames, The Charlotte Observer
Glenn H. Burkins
Glenn H. Burkins

It’s been brewing for some time now, but we may look back on Tuesday, Feb 9, 2016 as the day our school board finally failed us.

Not because the board, described as “bitterly divided” by the Charlotte Observer, voted 6-3 to extend Superintendent Ann Clark’s contract through June 2017. Reasonable people can differ on the wisdom of that decision, especially at this late hour and with the contentious issue of student assignment looming on the near horizon.

The board failed us because, with last night’s vote, it lost all credibility in terms of uniting our increasingly diverse schools across the fractious issue of race.

Every board member who favored extending Clark’s contract just happened to be white, and every member who opposed extension just happened to be black. (One board member who is black did vote to extend but had earlier argued against it.)

Can a board so clearly divided by race bring unity to a community even more divided by race? Not likely. Especially when there is so much at stake, and when a gain for students in high-poverty schools will likely be viewed as a setback for white and middle-income families.

As the board steps up to confront the thorny issue of student assignment, every decision it makes will now be viewed through the prism of Tuesday night’s vote.

Race has now become the issue.

White parents in CMS are in no mood to stomach busing to achieve the goal of breaking up the high-poverty clusters in our public schools. And black parents, frustrated and suspicious of white motives, are in no mood for anything less than something game-changing.

How can a board clearly divided by race ever hope to bridge this chasm?

It can’t.

And it all seemed so avoidable. We’ve known for more than a year that CMS would need a permanent superintendent to replace Heath Morrison, who resigned under pressure in November 2014. And we’ve known all along that the search would be contentious. Why did our school board wait until the 11th hour, when emotions are high and good options have faded, to get serious about this issue?

Our city deserves better, but I have no faith at all that we will get it.

Founder and publisher of Qcitymetro, Glenn has worked at newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wall Street Journal and The Charlotte Observer.