School board races often play also-ran in the minds of some voters behind more high-profile campaigns for mayor and city and county government. But the election of school board members are arguably the more important. The victors in school board races make direct decisions about the people we hold most dear our children. Those children will be among this communitys future leaders. Thus, the work of school boards affects all of us.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system second largest in the state and 17th largest in the nation is lucky to now have a governing board that works hard and collaboratively to address the needs of its more than 140,000 students. It wasnt always that way. A few years ago the board was mired in divisive bickering. New members and leaders have changed that, and the board has won national praise for the way it works together to improve CMS. The boards unified, collegial effort must continue as the group fights for needed resources to help all students meet their academic potential.
As the last few CMS races illustrate, who is elected matters in having an effective and focused board. Five of the six districts will elect a representative on Tuesday in nonpartisan races. District 3 school board member Joyce Waddell is running unopposed. We urge voters to give the nod to candidates who aim to work as a team and are passionate about providing whats necessary to help students achieve. We recommend the following:
DISTRICT 1: RHONDA LENNON
We dont always agree with incumbent Rhonda Lennon, but she has proved in her first term that she can not only be a strong advocate for her district but work for the betterment of the whole system. She was an enthusiastic community activist before her election in 2009 and has a deep knowledge of education issues.
Her opponent, accountant and CMS parent Christine Mast, was part of a group advocating that the districts schools leave CMS. She also opposes the school bond package, which Lennon supports.
Both are Republicans in this district that includes three northern towns Huntersville, Davidson and Cornelius and parts of northeast and northwest Charlotte. Lennon has shown she can work constructively on critical issues. She has earned another term.
DISTRICT 2: RICHARD MCELRATH
Both retired CMS math teacher Richard McElrath, the incumbent, and challenger Thelma Byers-Bailey, a retired lawyer, have had the kind of grassroots activism that provide great insights into this diverse southwest Charlotte districts needs.
Byers-Bailey, president of the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Association, says she will be more visible and accessible than McElrath has been.
Still, McElrath has provided a needed voice on the board for ensuring high-quality teachers in early grades, better preparing students for the workforce and keeping the challenges of unstable neighborhoods and their impact on education in the public debate. Either would represent the district adequately but McElrath is better versed on a broader array of education issues.
DISTRICT 4: TOM TATE
Tom Tate vividly remembers attending a national education conference shortly after being elected to the school board in 2005. At one session, the topic was dysfunctional school boards, and the video of how not to behave was a replay of a CMS board meeting.
Now, Tate is the boards senior member, and he has helped change an atmosphere of pettiness with a steady reasonable voice through superintendent searches, school closings and budget difficulties.
Tate is challenged in this east Charlotte district by Queen Elizabeth Thompson, who worked with at-risk students at CMS before being fired from CMS in 2001 (she eventually settled a lawsuit regarding her dismissal). Thompson believes the district can do a better job with those students by more thoroughly monitoring their progress and training teachers to accommodate diverse learning styles.
Tate is a strong advocate for teachers and for his district, which is home to several schools with high poverty levels. Tate also crafted the system-wide anti-bullying policy.
We think District 4 and the board as a whole would benefit from Tate serving another four years.
DISTRICT 5: ERIC DAVIS
Incumbent Eric Davis, a Wells Fargo bank executive, is the clear choice over challenger Edward Donaldson, a home inspector. Davis was elected chair in 2009 in his first year on the board and he began the transformation of the group into a cohesive unit working collaboratively to get things done.
He is a hard worker who invests time and energy to listen and respond to constituents. He is a creative thinker and pushes his colleagues to be as well. He has been an asset from his first day on the board.
Donaldson, who wants CMS split to reduce its size, is making his first run for public office and offers no compelling reason to oust the current well-regarded south central Charlotte representative.
DISTRICT 6: BOLYN MCCLUNG
Amelia Stinson-Wesley, appointed to fill the District 6 seat in 2011 after Tim Morgan won an at-large school board seat, isnt running. So voters in this southern Mecklenburg area get to choose from three very different candidates: Matthews Mayor pro tem Paul Bailey, who works for Duke Energy, avid education activist Bolyn McClung, a printer and IT manager, and former teacher Doug Wrona, who works for MetLife. All three express an earnestness about improving the schools.
The two front-runners are Bailey and McClung. Bailey touts his political connections with the Republican-controlled legislature, and has endorsements from several lawmakers. Still, for depth of knowledge about a broad array of education issues, McClung has the advantage.
He has kept a watchful eye on CMS affairs for more than a decade, attending as many school board meetings as some members, and has been on numerous CMS advisory panels, including one helping to choose Heath Morrison as schools superintendent. He understands the critical issues facing CMS. Either Bailey or McClung would be a good fit for this conservative leaning district. For his education knowledge and devotion, we give the slight edge to McClung.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less