The Rev. Amelia Stinson-Wesley, a little-known PTA parent and anti-violence activist, was appointed Thursday to the District 6 seat on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board on a vote that split on party lines.
The board's five Democrats selected Stinson-Wesley, a Democrat who has lived in Pineville since 2006, to represent the Republican-leaning south suburban district.
Republicans Rhonda Lennon, who represents the northern suburbs, and Tim Morgan, whose election to an at-large seat left the vacancy, said the vote will launch two years of partisan strife and suburban alienation.
"It's a new game," Lennon said. "They put the pieces on the game board. We just have to play the game."
Lennon, Morgan and Eric Davis, who is unaffiliated, said afterward that they believe the Democratic majority will be setting the direction for CMS without their support. Board Chair Ericka Ellis-Stewart said she doesn't see it that way: "We still have to work as a group; there's always going to be votes where people don't agree."
Stinson-Wesley will be sworn in before Tuesday's meeting. The new board will immediately engage in a superintendent search and planning for the 2012-13 budget.
"At this point, I believe I will be listening," she said after the meeting.
Stinson-Wesley, who came to Pineville from Morganton, has two children at Pineville Elementary. She said she has attended a few CMS board meetings but hasn't gotten involved in specific issues.
A United Methodist minister, Stinson-Wesley has lived in southeast Asia and worked extensively on issues involving violence against women and children. Serving on the school board represents a major shift for her, she said Thursday night.
"I started having children and didn't want to take them into war zones, so I stopped traveling," she said.
Ellis-Stewart and Vice Chair Mary McCray, whose election to at-large seats in November gave Democrats a majority on the officially nonpartisan board, said the selection wasn't about party but about Stinson-Wesley's passion for children.
"I didn't even know she was a Democrat. I didn't look at party affiliation," McCray said afterward.
Stinson-Wesley was among 12 applicants - two of them Democrats - who applied for the remaining two years on Morgan's term. She was apparently chosen as members huddled in small groups just before the 4 p.m. meeting.
Before that, members were reportedly deadlocked, split between former board Chair Wilhelmenia Rembert, a Democrat, and accountant David Knoble, a Republican who's in the process of switching his registration to unaffiliated.
Morgan, Lennon and Davis spoke in favor of Knoble, saying he knows the district's needs and brings valuable accounting skills.
Davis said he looked at skills that would complement those of current members: "We lack significant analytical skills."
The Rev. Tom Tate, a Democrat who was viewed as a swing vote when south suburbanites lined up against Rembert, said he was impressed by Stinson-Wesley's remarks, which showed concern for the needs of District 6 and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as a whole.
"She said she wanted to see our students soar," Tate said.
A handful of people from District 6, including Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor and state Rep. Bill Brawley, a Matthews Republican, came to watch the vote. Some of them said afterward they had never heard of Stinson-Wesley.
Morgan made that point in his remarks, saying she never talked to him before applying on Monday, the final day applications were accepted.
"She's very nice, very well spoken, but folks, I don't know where she really stands on District 6 issues," Morgan said.
After the meeting, Stinson-Wesley approached Morgan to apologize and say she'll be in touch. Morgan said he's willing to talk, but he still plans to tell his constituents that "she is an unknown in District 6."
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has a history of urban-suburban tension. In 2005, hundreds of suburbanites met to talk about splitting from CMS over concerns that their issues were being overlooked and their areas were shortchanged on school construction. Last year school board meetings and street rallies drew hundreds of city residents upset over plans to close schools serving mostly minority and low-income students.
The 2009 district election brought in five new members, including Morgan, Lennon and Davis, who formed a moderate/conservative coalition that prevailed in most votes - and named Davis chair. That majority was viewed with animosity in some urban Charlotte areas that felt short-shrifted on the closings and other decisions. Black Democrats turned out in force for the 2011 election.
Davis agreed with his Republican colleagues that the board seems headed toward decisions made by the Democratic majority alone. He said he fears that will reverse the current emphasis on measuring results for all students, which he said has led to major gains among African-American students.
"It's ironic that the beneficiaries of our changes in policy are our most vocal critics," he said. Researcher Maria David contributed.