The voters of south suburban District 6 are the only ones certain to have a new school board representative this year, and the three-person race offers sharp contrasts.
Paul Bailey, a longtime Matthews town commissioner, brings endorsements from an array of elected officials in the area, including Tim Morgan, who won that school board seat four years ago, and Bill James, the county commissioner who represents District 6. Bailey says his relationships with other officials, including state legislators, are crucial at a time when state and county decisions shape Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ destiny.
Bolyn McClung, a printer and IT manager who has never held elected office, probably spends more time on school board business than anyone who’s not a member. He says his knowledge, developed over four years of attending meetings, asking questions and blogging, will prove valuable in a district that hasn’t had a long-term representative.
Doug Wrona, a former CMS teacher making his first run for office, offers himself as a voice from the classroom. He advocates for a reduction in testing, a bonus system to keep teachers in the profession and a learning environment that encourages collaboration.
The competition is lively. Bailey, who is working with a political consultant, announced his endorsements in mid-September.
McClung countered by calling state Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. Bill Brawley, who endorsed Bailey, “two of public education’s worst enemies,” citing their advocacy for cuts to public education and vouchers that shift money to private schools. “I want to keep these two General Assembly members and the candidate they support from doing further damage to District 6 schools and the rest of CMS,” McClung said.
Wrona also fired back: “Remind me again, how many years has Paul Bailey been a teacher in CMS?” He, too, said he wouldn’t want the support of Bailey’s backers. He said he’d rather get endorsements from the likes of liberal comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert or teachers union leader Randi Weingarten. “However, they don’t know me, so I’m not counting on any endorsements.”
High-performing public schools are a point of pride in District 6, and are generally considered part of the draw contributing to the area’s rapid growth.
But some residents complain that they haven’t had consistent representation on the school board. Only one of the last three members elected to the district seat stayed a full four years, and he didn’t seek a second term. Morgan, elected in 2009, sought and won an at-large seat in 2011. Amelia Stinson-Wesley, appointed to fill the District 6 seat, isn’t running.
Bailey, an engineer who works for Duke Energy, says he’s long thought about running for school board. His three children graduated from CMS and his wife is an administrative secretary at Collinswood Language Academy.
This year seemed like the right time to move from the town board, where he’s mayor pro tem. There’s no incumbent running, and Bailey says he sees himself meshing quickly with an effective team. He says the current board works well together, and Superintendent Heath Morrison is building confidence by attending community meetings and listening to residents of the south suburbs.
“There is a new leaf being turned” in an area that has sometimes felt overlooked by CMS leaders, Bailey said.
Bailey, a Republican, says the political connections he has made over the past 20 years will be an asset to CMS, which must seek money from county commissioners and state legislators. The Republican-dominated state legislature has grown increasingly active in education policy. Bailey got endorsements from two state senators and two representatives, including Democrat Tricia Cotham, a former CMS administrator and the daughter of County Commissioners Chair Pat Cotham.
Bailey says his top priorities include increasing teacher pay and ensuring that all students have access to technology. Both will require support from the state and county.
“I’m the only candidate that has the ability to go to the state and county representatives to find solutions,” Bailey said.
Shadow board member
Any time the school board meets, even in committee, McClung is likely to be in the audience. And chances are good that he has read up on the issues and dug up additional information.
McClung, a 1965 graduate of Myers Park High, says his fascination was born from frustration. In the early 2000s, he says, “CMS was a mess.” He campaigned against the 2005 school bonds because “I wasn’t about to give them one damn penny.”
The bonds failed, and McClung was named to a citizens advisory board chaired by former Gov. James Martin. Many of the current board members also served on that panel, which was charged with finding school construction solutions the public would embrace.
The group delved deep into school construction, financing and education policy. McClung was hooked, not only on understanding the issues but on knowing the people behind the scenes.
“I just started feeding my energy to be in the schools and try to make them better,” he says. “To me it’s just a thrilling part of my life. Everybody should be so lucky.”
McClung was a co-chair of the successful 2007 CMS bond campaign and supports the $290 million in CMS bonds on this year’s ballot.
He also calls teacher pay the top issue, and wants the school board and county commissioners to find a way to use local money “to raise teacher pay but not raise taxes.” McClung is a Republican, but he’s not eager to align himself with GOP lawmakers he believes are making bad decisions.
McClung, who lives in Pineville, said he’s not seeking endorsements, but “if I were to ask for support, it would not be from those in Raleigh who are responsible for cutting education funding.”
Pineville Mayor George Fowler said of the school board race: “We’re naturally supportive of our hometown fella,” though he added that Bailey would also make a good representative.
A teacher voice
Wrona is the lowest-profile candidate in the race. He hasn’t set up a campaign website and plans to spend only about $300 of his own money.
A self-described progressive Democrat – his email is firstname.lastname@example.org – he’s running in a district that tends to elect conservative Republicans such as James, serving his ninth term as a county commissioner. Wrona cites Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, as a major influence on his education philosophy.
Wrona, whose parents were both teachers, came to Charlotte to work for NationsBank (now Bank of America). When he was downsized, he moved into education, teaching at McAlpine and Ballantyne elementary schools. Later he worked in a tutoring program that provides intensive support for students in high-poverty schools, spending the last four years at Hickory Grove Elementary. That contract ended this summer, and he recently started a job with MetLife.
His platform focuses on changing the classroom environment to make it more supportive of teachers and students. He wants to eliminate letter grades in kindergarten through seventh grade, instead rating students on their mastery of subjects. He wants to eliminate the use of standardized testing to rate teachers, resist performance pay, create a bonus system to reward longevity and shift the focus from eliminating weak teachers to helping them get better.
“Teachers should be valued and appreciated for the job they do,” Wrona says. “Some teachers are better than others, but almost all have good intentions.”
Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter: @anndosshelms
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