Gauvreau an agent of change, or agitator?
School board meetings are notoriously long. And if you like arguments, they're also good theatre. Larry Gauvreau is often in the middle of these arguments. But his time on the board is coming to an end. Last month, he announced he won't seek re-election. He said there's no point in running because "liberals and unwitting politicians" have too much power. Whether you agree or disagree with Gauvreau, there's no denying he's had a huge impact on CMS. He's the guy who filed a federal lawsuit that led to the end of race- and income-based busing in the district. WFAE's Simone Orendain caught up with Gauvreau and produced this profile. Many call him a maverick, the "no" guy, the lone voice. Larry Gauvreau doesn't shy away from butting heads, especially with his colleagues on the CMS board. At a recent meeting, he wasn't happy about the district's request for a $590,000 grant from the federal government. It's for an Arabic language program at a military-themed magnet school. "The defense of the nation, I think I heard, as the rationale that these kindergarten students- I mean will anybody at this dais ever stand up and say, 'Come on!'" he exclaimed. Before Gauvreau ran for office, he butted heads with the board over busing. His federal lawsuit against CMS made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He led the lawsuit in the late 90's after he was told he couldn't enroll one of his sons in a magnet program because he was white. "I just couldn't believe it," he recalls. "I was in shock. At that time people from the neighborhood got together and did the same silly thing people do today, go downtown and pick on the board." That activism propelled him to a seat on the school board in 2001. "I wasn't naïve enough to know that the positions I'd take which I believe are in the public interest, weren't going to be attacked I understand the political leanings and debates that were going on and are still going on. But I still believed as I do today, with that opposition comes change, comes reform." Gauvreau can always be counted on to bring up the intricacies of the CMS budget. And he advocates for changes that became possible because of the lawsuit. "That right there removed race as the dominant policy decision across Mecklenburg County and its public schools. Not just in student assignment and busing, but in faculty policy decisions, sighting of schools, curriculum, the whole bailiwick. That was a massive change," Gauvreau says. He also pushed for breaking up CMS. For years, he's said it's too big. Gauvreau started out with the intention to decentralize the district but that evolved into an all-out effort to disband it. "Until we break apart these school districts you're never going to push enough power out into the hands of the public where they can change those that are making the decisions for them," Gauvreau says. The board responded to the decentralizing idea two years ago by creating six so-called learning communities within CMS, each with its own superintendent. Gauvreau laughs, "Which I proposed as a reform measure and I was tomatoed for it. of course, that's what we claim we're doing now, which is interesting!" While Gauvreau was a member of the board, he became so frustrated with CMS that he and his wife Robin jumped at the chance to enroll their kids in Lake Norman Charter School for fifth through eighth grades. Robin was one of the founding executive board members of Lake Norman, which opened in 1999. She currently teaches math there. His advocacy gets lost in typical Gauvreau rhetoric and a penchant for hyperbole - especially from the dais. Here's an exchange between Gauvreau and other board members. It's his reaction to initial proposals of cuts during a budget work session. Shouting often ensues. The words can get downright loaded when he addresses Superintendent Peter Gorman. Gorman declined to be interviewed for this story. Others who regularly attend board meetings have remarked on how "nice" they can be when Gauvreau's not around. At those meetings, he spars with whomever is in the chairman's seat. This year, Molly Griffin is rapping the gavel. "I'm much more of a compromise-seeker and a consensus-seeker, willing to have some give and take," Griffin says. Larry is much more committed to his vision and to his voice. And not so interested in compromise." Still, Griffin has a lot of respect for Gauvreau whom she calls very funny and very nice. She also says he would have had more success if he'd been willing to compromise. Board Vice-Chair Kaye McGarry shares the same conservative leanings as Gauvreau. She is impressed by what she calls his encyclopedic knowledge on the issues. But she says he falls short in one area. McGarry explains, "How he comes across where he would turn people off. I think that's very much the main thing, because otherwise his viewpoints are just as valuable as anybody else's viewpoints. It's just a matter of how you express them." Gauvreau is finishing out his term on the board in what he now calls a caretaker role. He says he has no intention of seeking public office again. But he would consider a board seat on a charter school. That's where Gauvreau feels he could take action on his own terms.