Council approves $500,000 for PEAK amid Gaza protest

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: While the protesters supporting a cease-fire resolution in the Gaza conflict remained silent for the majority of the Feb. 27 Council meeting, tensions rose during public comment. Photo by Brooke Randle

While the Feb. 27 Asheville City Council meeting started like any other, it quickly became a Hamas-Israel war protest site with more than a dozen demonstrators silently raising their red-painted hands and demanding a cease-fire resolution from Council. 

Council proceeded through its agenda amid the demonstration, including a unanimous vote to support a request for more than $500,000 in American Rescue Plan funding for Asheville PEAK Academy. 

The PEAK vote comes after a contentious meeting Feb. 13 in which some residents complained that Council was putting its support for a downtown restroom ahead of help for the majority Black public charter school. (Council did approve at that time $401,104 in ARPA funding for the restroom project, with Council member Antanette Mosley opposed.)

The $501,384 will help cover transportation, food, facility and uniform costs at the school. 

“Thank you for bringing this actually to a motion and realizing how important it is for all of our children to be properly educated and to get the support and resources that they need,” resident Kimberly Collins said before the vote. 

PEAK Academy is a kindergarten through fifth grade public charter school started in 2021 whose student body is majority Black. Since its opening, the school has begun to successfully close an achievement gap between white and Black students that has been an issue in Asheville City Schools since it earned a worst-in-the-state designation in 2017.

According to a city presentation, PEAK Academy submitted a $590,000 funding request to the city Sept. 7  to sustain operations for the 2023-24 school year. At the Jan. 23 Council meeting, PEAK Academy founder Gene Bell spoke about PEAK’s funding needs and asked for Council support. Council member Mosley suggested the city use American Rescue Plan Act funds for the school.

PEAK is facing a potentially costly civil rights complaint filed by WNC Citizens, led by former Asheville City Council member and congressional candidate Carl Mumpower and former City of Asheville risk management director John Miall, alleging racial discrimination against white students and faculty.

The funding will come from the final portion of $26.3 million of the ARPA funds that the City of Asheville received in 2021. In November, Council also approved $50,000 in Strategic Partnership Grant funding for the school.

“To me, this is a form of reparations,” Mayor Esther Manheimer said before the vote. But, she added, “I am deeply concerned about PEAK being able to sustain [itself] over time.”

“I hope that the Reparations Committee [will] take this issue into consideration because our children are our foundation,”  Vice Mayor Sandra Kilgore responded. “I cannot think of a better way to subsidize education that’s actually reducing that achievement gap.”

City staff will now work with PEAK Academy to finalize the formal grant agreement. Council will then vote on the agreement and budget amendment at its Tuesday, March 12, meeting. 

Cease-fire protests interrupt public comment 

While the protesters remained silent during the business section of Council’s agenda, tensions rose during public comment with both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian commenters speaking for and against a Gaza cease-fire resolution.

“We know it is symbolic. Asheville City Council is not going to pass the resolution, and then all of a sudden, there’s going to be a cease-fire,” said resident Noor Abdelfatta. “But around 70 city councils around the United States have passed similar resolutions. And so there is a movement in this country changing its position on this particular issue.”

Speaking in support of Israel, Monica Buckley said, “There are genocides happening in lots of places in the world right now. And if we’re going to put a resolution on the table for voting in Asheville and making some sort of stand about it, then we’re going to need to do that for every perceived war crime in every nation where there is genocide happening. That will be what I would expect from the City Council if you move forward with this one specifically targeting Israel.”

Following an extended chant by pro-Palestinian protestors, Council cut public comment short and went into closed session to discuss legal matters in another room. According to City Clerk Maggie Burleson, at least one person who signed up to speak on another issue was not able to participate in public comment due to the disruption. 


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8 thoughts on “Council approves $500,000 for PEAK amid Gaza protest

  1. gapple

    How about a resolution denouncing the genocide of african american babies at Margaret Sanger Institutions who will not have the benefit of reparations via the PEAK Academy?

  2. Nostupid peoples

    Yet, back here on earth it was a gorgeous day! With the goldenrods blooming, and the lilies popping up and a nice cup of Joe, life is good! I urge people to read the good old king James Bible, full of love stories, action adventures and did I mention, what to expect for the future!!

    • Jt

      I guess you missed the mass murder, infanticide, rape, slavery, etc. in your distasteful story book. All enabled by your supposed loving god. I share your pleasure in flowers and coffee though.

  3. Jt

    Giving money to only one skin color is racist and should be completely illegal. Poor white and other kids are once again deemed less important than black. Tilting the playing field the other direction isn’t remotely promoting equality. I hope the lawsuit succeeds.

  4. Woobee

    These funds to PEAK are a highly questionable use of city monies . At least the money should have come out of (and been deducted from) the fund allocated for “reparations.” For those paying attention, the current city council members and city manager are deliberately and disproportionately allocating taxpayers” funds to benefit of the black community. This is unfair and unconstitutional. Vote them out.

  5. Soothsayer

    Some people just have too much free time and ego on their hands in addition to the red paint. What truly does the small city of Asheville have to do with the global geopolitical powder keg that is Israel and Gaza? A resolution for what? Words on paper that mean nothing and takes away from local and pertinent city business.

    • vrede

      Alone Asheville’s voice is minimally effective, as you imply. However, 71 local resolutions are nothing to sneeze at. Biden is responding to the outcry, however it’s been expressed, and America’s highest ranking Jew, Chuck Schumer, is now openly calling for regime change in Israel. Genocidal Nuttyahoo is out of control.

  6. vrede

    While I support Gaza’s cause 100%, the “extended chant by pro-Palestinian protestors” was just rude. If Council is allowing you to speak freely, why take away that opportunity from others? It’s one tactic or the other – public comment OR disruption.

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