CMS Board Candidate Forum
A more analytical approach to a massive budget, more input from a neighborhood before closing a school, and a lot more lawmakers in Raleigh who agree with educators in Charlotte.
Those are a few things candidates for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board called for Thursday night at a public forum hosted by WFAE and MeckEd.
There are 12 candidates running for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board’s six district seats.
The race for the sixth district is the only one that doesn’t have an incumbent. That district covers much of southeast Mecklenburg County, but you’d be forgiven for wondering if it stretches all the way to Raleigh based on how much the candidates talked about the state capital Thursday night.
“We need new General Assembly members from this district,” said Bolyn McClung, who’s attended almost every school board meeting for years. “Our teachers need more resources. They need more respect from the people in Raleigh.”
McClung is a Republican. But he is vehemently against some of the education policies GOP lawmakers passed this year, like getting rid of tenure. He started venting because he says one of his opponents, Paul Bailey, is too buddy-buddy with those lawmakers.
Bailey is also a Republican, and he’s the mayor pro tem of Matthews. He touts endorsements from some GOP legislators from the area, like Senator Bob Rucho.
Bailey pitches himself as the guy who can sell those lawmakers on what the school system needs.
“I have already told two of our legislative delegates that I don’t agree with some of the things they’ve done,” Bailey said. “We have a relationship that spans 20 years. And because of our ability to discuss as gentleman and work together, I’ve been able to tell them that I disagree and that we need to make these changes.”
The third candidate for district six is Doug Wrona, a Democrat.
“I’m here to represent progressive ideas, research-based ideas,” Wrona said. “And I’ll be working to support progressives, to replace those that have made these decisions in Raleigh.”
The five other districts all have an incumbent running.
Joyce Waddell has district 3 in the bag. (She doesn’t have a challenger.)
Incumbent Rhonda Lennon faces Christine Mast in district 1, which covers northern Mecklenburg County. Mast has a background in accounting.
“I have extensive experience analyzing budgets and other type of data,” she said. “With the billion dollar operating budget CMS has, I’d really like to use my skill set to analyze that to make sure that we’re spending money where we should be.”
Mast complained that most of the performance indicators in the CMS strategic plan don’t have measurable goals yet.
The incumbent, Rhonda Lennon, says it’s a work in progress.
“Just because the data is not available doesn’t mean we sit idly,” Lennon said. “The goals are in place. They are strategic. They are smart. They’re actually beyond smart – they’re phenomenal.”
Lennon says the goal she’s most excited about is transforming each school into a unique environment for students. And she touts the work she’s done to make sure CMS keeps holding middle school sports despite budget cuts.
District 5 includes parts of south Charlotte. The race there is between incumbent Eric Davis and Edward Donaldson.
Davis chaired the school board for two of the past four years. He defended the board’s decision to lengthen the school day for elementary schools by 45 minutes. The schedule saved transportation costs.
“And so the choice came down to do we lay off more teachers and keep the bell schedules that we have in place, or do we adjust the bell schedules and keep teachers?” he said. “We chose teachers. And we chose that because that’s the most important person in a student’s education second to their parents.”
Davis says he doesn’t necessarily like the new bell schedule. His opponent, Donaldson, says CMS should change it.
“I do not believe that any child should be on a school bus or getting home after 4:30 unless they’re dealing with activities such as extracurricular,” he said. “I understand that we have budget issues. But I believe that there’s more options other than choosing a late schedule or cutting teachers.”
For example, Donaldson says the school district could save money on studies by doing them internally instead of paying a company for them.
In district 2, incumbent Richard McElrath faces Thelma Byers-Bailey. That district includes west Charlotte and several schools CMS closed because of tight budgets. One of those schools was Lincoln Heights elementary, Byers-Bailey’s neighborhood school.
“And as you know, a neighborhood school is a very important lifeblood to a neighborhood who’s trying to grow,” she said. “So we went to the board. We gave them some alternative suggestions. And we came away from that process feeling as though our voices weren’t heard and our opinions didn’t matter.”
That’s why Byers-Bailey is running. McElrath says the school board has done the best it could with a limited budget, and that its current members have a plan to expand school choices.
Here’s how he began his answer to a question about if they’re doing enough:
“If you would say, hold it and let’s see, you would find out the answer to that question,” he said.