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Asheville City Council Election: How It Could Affect City School Board

Matt Bush
Blue Ridge Public Radio

Five candidates are running for three seats on Asheville City Council in the current election.  While there are differences on a variety of issues, there is one topic the majority of candidates agree on, and it deals with changing the duties of council members.

The Asheville City school system has two statistics that must be reversed if any long-term push to build racial equity in the city can stick – it has the worst academic achievement gapbetween its black and white middle school students in North Carolina. It also has a stark suspension rate differential between its black and white students.  City council has some influence over the district’s priorities - it appoints the members of the city school board.  Four of the five candidates in this year’s council election say that should no longer be the case. 

Speaking during a forum held via Zoom hosted by Blue Ridge Public Radio and the Asheville Citizen Times, Sage Turner stated she is among those who want school board members elected instead of appointed.  “Council in this meantime does have a responsibility to appoint strong school board members, but we do need to shift to elected (board members).  I think that will hold us accountable and the school board accountable.”

Sandra Kilgore agreed on electing school board members.  “I think if it’s elected, then (candidates) will have to prove that they, just like we are now, that they have knowledge about the needs of our community.” 

Rich Lee called electing board members “a good start”, because he says the inequity in student achievement is proof the current system isn’t working.   "I don’t think it’s a panacea, and I know it opens things to electioneering and pandering that supposedly don’t exist now.  Although, people are working their connections into these committee and board positions.”

Kim Roney gave a different reason for her support of the idea – geography, echoing the legal fight to keep city council elections as they are for at least this year.  “Right now we have a city council that is elected at-large.  But only because we fought the districting of the city.  And that may come up again, and if it does, two and a half of the (council) districts if they are drawn a similar way, won’t be served by the school board.  So then you’d have representatives in that situation that will be appointed by members who don’t serve these schools (in those areas).” 

The lone incumbent on the ballot is also the lone candidate who wants city council to keep appointing school board members – at least for now.  Keith Young explained he raised very little money when he was first elected to city council in 2015.  “That doesn’t happen historically in elections.  People who don’t raise money don’t win.  And sometimes the best people you want representing you aren’t going to raise the money.  I think it gives an advantage to individuals who are very well connected with individuals who can fund campaigns.”

Three of these five candidates will get the opportunity to decide the future of how school board members are chosen.  There is a sixth candidate on the city council ballot this year, but Nicole Townsend announced over the summer that she is no longer seeking the office.  But her name will remain on the ballot. 

You can hear the candidates answer questions about the city police budget and the cit's government's role in slowing and recovering from the pandemic in the BPR News Presents: 2020 Local Election Special, a production of the Blue Ridge Public Radio news team.  Listen here, with the free BPR mobile app, or through Apple or Google Podcasts.

Matt Bush joined Blue Ridge Public Radio as news director in August 2016. Excited at the opportunity the build up the news service for both stations as well as help launch BPR News, Matt made the jump to Western North Carolina from Washington D.C. For the 8 years prior to coming to Asheville, he worked at the NPR member station in the nation's capital as a reporter and anchor. Matt primarily covered the state of Maryland, including 6 years of covering the statehouse in Annapolis. Prior to that, he worked at WMAL in Washington and Metro Networks in Pittsburgh, the city he was born and raised in.
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