Larry Bumgarner is the most distinctive candidate in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board race.
The only unaffiliated voter among the nine candidates, he touts himself as an independent “referee between the parties.”
One of his main campaign planks is refusing the $13,300 annual salary for board members so the money can be spent on schools. “I’m going to work for you for free,” he told a recent audience.
A graduate of West Charlotte High during the days of busing for desegregation, Bumgarner touts himself as a successful product of CMS. He sold two businesses and retired 15 years ago at age 45, he says.
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He’s making his fourth attempt to win a seat on the school board, and he tells audiences that his extensive volunteer work in struggling schools gives him insight into classroom realities. However, he hasn’t volunteered since summer of 2014, when he was escorted out of Independence High by a security officer after a confrontation over where he was assigned to proctor exams.
Bumgarner is critical of the way CMS is run today, saying the district doesn’t pay attention to its “customers” or give them the best education for their money. He’s a vocal advocate for charter schools.
In his retirement, Bumgarner reads audiobooks for the blind, creates websites to promote various causes and posts prolifically on online comment sections. He has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but says his health is good enough to serve four years if elected. “The only thing I do is shake,” he said.
Bumgarner has never won an election, but in 2011 he came in sixth of 14 candidates, with more than 14,000 votes.
The range of responses he inspires can be seen in comments on Observer articles about his candidacy. “A loose cannon” and “one strange bird,” one person called him. “Ten times the vision of any other candidate” with “the guts and stones to make some change,” said another.
Bumgarner couldn’t resist commenting on his own filing: “That Bumgarner sounds like a real nut case,” he wrote, “but so is the Observer.”
▪ Political experience: Making his fourth attempt to win a school board seat.
▪ CMS connections: Graduate of West Charlotte High, former school volunteer.
▪ Occupation: Retired business owner.
▪ Education: Bachelor’s degree from UNC Charlotte.
▪ Quote: “We need to make schools about one thing: Education, education, education.”
▪ Age: 60.