November’s election will mean big changes for the CMS school board. At least a third of the school board will be new, since three incumbents aren’t running. This year, there are several contentious issues in the mix, such as the district’s new student assignment plan and the nearly $1 billion school bond referendum.
BOARD OF EDUCATION CANDIDATES SHARE THEIR VIEWS
WFAE’s Morning Edition Host Marshall Terry talks to WFAE reporter Gwendolyn Glenn about the various races and issues.
Marshall Terry--So how many candidates do we have?
Gwendolyn Glenn: There are 19 candidates vying for six district seats. Residents will vote for one candidate from their district only. The school board has three at-large seats but those elections won’t be held until 2019. And by the way, there will be a 20th candidate listed on the ballot, Amy Moon Hallman, but she has not campaigned and is not considered a candidate.
MT-Only three of the school board candidates are incumbents. Who are they and who is not seeking another term?
GG: Rhonda Lennon is seeking re-election in District 1 in North Mecklenburg; Thelma Byers-Bailey in District 2 in West and Southwest Charlotte; and Ruby Jones in District 3, in the Northeast, part of the county. Tom Tate, Eric Davis and Paul Bailey who represent districts in the east and southeast parts of the county respectively, are not running this time around.
MT: The ballot also includes a $922 million bond referendum to renovate and replace several schools. Where do the candidates stand on that?
GG: Well, the bond package will pay for the building of 17 schools and renovations and expansions at 12 others. Two District 1 candidates oppose the bond. They are incumbent board member Rhonda Lennon and newcomer, Jess Miller. The bond plan has received lots of opposition in North Mecklenburg. The commissions in Huntersville and Cornelius took a vote against it as did the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce. Like those groups, Lennon and Miller say the bond did not provide enough money for District 1. They both say the bond doesn’t take into account the growth the district has experienced, and they disagree with the way CMS determined which schools were overcrowded and needed new buildings or additional classrooms. The third candidate in District 1, Annette Albright, a first-time candidate and former CMS employee, supports the bond and says improving school buildings is a good investment.
MT: How do candidates in other districts view the bond package?
GG: Well, they support it but Queen Thompson, a retired social worker and CMS counselor, has concerns. She’s running in District 4- that’s eastern Mecklenburg County, and she worries that the district is too focused on building new schools and not enough on improving student achievement.
MT: CMS’s new student assignment plan will bring the most change to district 5 next year. What do candidates there think of the plan?
GG: Yes, that district includes the two elementary school pairings – Dilworth and Sedgefield just south of uptown and Cotswold and Billingsville east of uptown. First-time candidate Margaret Marshall says that helped relieve overcrowding, but says the changes were communicated poorly. Jim Peterson, also a first timer, didn’t like it. He calls himself a believer in the value of neighborhood schools, instead of quote, “trying to ship students around;” and Jeremy Stephenson, who ran for an at-large school board seat in 2015, says student assignment isn’t an effective way to help struggling schools.
MT: Where do candidates in other districts stand on the student assignment plan?
GG: Some are more supportive of it than others but I’d say just about all of them have problems with it. In western district 2, which includes several schools with high concentrations of poverty, incumbent Thelma Byers-Bailey says the plan doesn’t go far enough and still leaves Charlotte’s neighborhood schools segregated. Her only opponent newcomer Lenora Shipp agrees with her.
Now In District 4, candidate Carol Sawyer is a long-time education advocate who pushed hard to create more socio-economic balance at schools. She supports the plan but says it did not go far enough on that or in increasing magnet programs. Stephanie Sneed, an attorney also supports the plan because she says it will ease overcrowding in some schools. Queen Thompson, who is running for school board for the third time, says she’s concerned it’s not sufficient to provide students with a quality education.
MT: Gwen, are there any specific races that are particularly interesting?
GG: District 3 in northeast charlotte is notable because there are six candidates running. Incumbent Ruby Jones was appointed to the board three years ago. Two of her challengers have run for school board before. On the issues, there aren’t any major distinctions between the candidates. They are pretty much in agreement that CMS schools need to be more diverse and the bond issue is a good thing.