Five CMS district seats are up for grabs this election. Current board members say they’ve seen the board through difficult financial times and are eager to forge ahead with a new superintendent. Their challengers say there’s room for improvement. WFAE together with MeckEd will hold a public forum with eleven of the candidates this Thursday evening. The moderator of the event is WFAE’s Lisa Miller. She joins Morning Edition host Kevin Kniestedt for a preview.
KK: So one big difference from the last election is we have a different superintendent.
LM: Yes, we do. Former superintendent Peter Gorman was a real polarizing force by the end of his time here with school closings to save money and the roll out of new standardized tests. The board has now united around the new superintendent Heath Morrison.
KK: Are the school closings an issue in this election?
LM: I’ve only heard that brought up in the district two race, which includes west charlotte where many of the schools were closed. Richard McElrath who represents that district voted to close a few schools, including Lincoln Heights elementary on the west side. That’s part of the reason why Thelma Byers-Bailey says she got into the race. She’s a retired lawyer and tried with others to keep that school open back in 2010. But she says the board just dismissed them and chose to close the school without really hearing their arguments.
KK: Now the more controversial decisions are coming from the state level regarding teacher pay and funding for schools. How do you hear that playing out in these school board races?
LM: This has come up a great deal in the district 6 race which includes much of south Charlotte. Paul Bailey is the Mayor Pro-Tem of Matthews and has endorsements from some Republican state lawmakers. He says he doesn’t agree with all of their decisions, but he feels he would have some influence with them.
Paul Bailey: I can sit down and talk with them and understand where they’re coming from, why they did what they did. But then also I’m able to communicate with them and tell them my thoughts on that and help pull the school board together and push in a direction that’s more positive for CMS.
LM: Bolyn McClung takes a very different position with decisions lawmakers from his own party have made, particularly with the decision to keep teacher pay pretty much flat over the past five years, expect for a 1-percent bump last year. Here he is:
Bolyn McClung: I would make it my personal agenda to make sure I use the bully pulpit to find better persons to run for those seats, people who will be our real brothers and sisters in Raleigh and look at us better.
LM: McClung first got involved with CMS through a citizens’ advisory board formed after the 2005 school bonds failed. Now if there’s a school board meeting, you can bet he’s there. Doug Wrona is also running in that district, but he hasn’t been campaigning much.
KK: CMS bonds are on the ballot this year too. CMS is asking voters for $290 million to help expand and build new schools. Do all the candidates support the bonds?
LM: That’s become one of the big differences in the district one race. That’s northern Mecklenburg County. The bond package includes money to replace J.M. Alexander Middle school, expanding Davidson Elementary into a k-8 school and adding more career-technical classrooms for North Mecklenburg High. Current board member Rhonda Lennon says she’d like CMS to tackle more projects in the district, but she supports the bonds. Her challenger Christine Mast wants the bonds to fail so that the board can put together another package that addresses crowded elementary schools in northern Mecklenburg County. She says CMS can use other ways of borrowing to undertake projects that need immediate action.
KK: Thanks, Lisa. You can hear directly from those candidates at WFAE and MeckEd’s forum Thursday evening at CPCC’s Tate Hall. The event will be from 6-7:30.