Time to Lead

A year in, Anthony Foxx has already inserted himself into the education debate. Now, it's time to do more

In this space in the October 2009 issue, which went to press two months before Anthony Foxx was elected, I called for our next mayor to be an impractical leader. It feels extremely odd to quote myself, but here is part of what I wrote:

“Schools are funded by the county and the state. Our mayor has long hid behind that fact. … But someone with a microphone has to stand up for our schools. Personally, I’d trade a hall of fame or an art museum for an across-the-board upgrade of our local education system. And so I challenge our next mayor to be a little impractical. Muddy the waters. Mix it up with the county and the state. … Employ the bully pulpit effectively, for issues that matter.”

So far, Foxx, whom Jen Pilla Taylor profiles in this issue (“The Mayor Will See You Now”) is off to a good start. I have attended a lot of education-related events during the past few months. Every time, Foxx has been there. He hosted a few hundred friends at a screening of Waiting for “Superman”, the hot new documentary about public education. He consults with school board Chair Eric Davis and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman. He made education a cornerstone of his December “State of the City” address. And he’s been pushing for consolidation of local government, under which the school board would have its own taxing authority, rather than having to guess how the county will fund it.

Pragmatists out there are probably asking, “Why bother?” After all, the mayor and City Council have almost no control over our ailing public school system. (Foxx mentioned after-school programs and school resource officers in a recent interview, two areas that council does fund.) I ask, why not? If not Foxx, who? Our county commission is too busy squabbling over who will be chair, never mind the enormous debt hole it has dug for itself. The hands of our school board are tied, because their budget comes from other people. So in fact, I think Foxx needs to do more. He needs to publicly hold the county commission to the fire and demand that they work in concert with the city and the school board as it plans. He needs to lobby Raleigh to let CMS decide for itself how to spend state money, instead of letting rural politicians employ obsolete restrictions. Most importantly, he needs to rally the public to demand better schools across the board—not just in their own backyard.

Categories: Editor’s Note, Opinion, The Buzz