Mayoral candidates say they want to improve education, but can they?

Mayoral candidates say they want to improve education, but can they?

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte's mayoral race is in full swing. The candidates are using public education as a platform and are telling voters what they will do to improve it.

The problem is that the way Charlotte city government is set up, the mayor has little to no say about how Charlotte Mecklenburg School (CMS) district operates.

"It's primarily politics," Political Consultant Thomas Mills said.

Mills has been a political consultant for about 20 years. He has overseen many campaigns. He says the politicians say what they want despite the fact they can do nothing about education because voters allow it.

"If voters saw through that," Mills said, "Then politicians wouldn't use it. At some point you have to put the onerous back on the voters to be informed about what their local government does."

Eric Herberlig is a political science professor at UNC-Charlotte. He told WBTV the candidates have no other choice but to talk about education if they want to surge in the polls.

"Education is a concern of the public," Heberlig said. "So even so it's not a duty of the city council or the mayor - candidates are going to talk about what they hear voters responding to."

Heberlig believes this is a strategy candidates use to keep relevant, keep the buzz happening around their campaign and get people to vote.

"If you are a voter," Heberlig said. "And you want to hear about education and your candidate isn't talking about it - you are not likely to come to the polls."

CMS School Board chair Mary McCray says there is something the candidates can do to help CMS. She wants them to restore funding for School Resource Officers (SRO's). The city cut that funding citing it could no longer afford to pay for it any longer and CMS is now forced to pick up that annual cost.

McCray says that money could go back in the classrooms.

WBTV reached out to the candidates and asked about restoring funding to pay for SRO's. Candidates Scott Stone and Dan Clodfelter responded.

"The city and the school board have two different functions," Mayoral Candidate Scott Stone said. "And the city budget should not be used for CMS items. However, school resource officers are different. I view this as community policing. If the city does not provide officers on campus, it will be forced to provide additional officers in neighborhoods around schools."

Stone continued, "Resources officers are an effective and efficient us of city dollars. As a CMS parent – my daughters attend Ardrey Kell High School – I know that strong leadership can shape the debate of the priorities in our schools. I can use the role of mayor to ensure we are prioritizing our spending to keep a higher percentage of money in the classroom, which includes teacher pay."

Candidate Dan Clodfelter wrote, "I will definitely support restoring School Resource Officers. They are an important way to help build relationships between the police and young people by their daily interactions at the schools."

As the campaign continues, experts believe while the new mayor can't do a lot to improve public education, there is one thing they can do with the office.

"They can use their informal power," Heberlig said. "To shape the way citizens and potential citizens think about education in Charlotte, and they have the ability to bring people together."

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