Three-way competition to be new CMS District 5 school board member is fierce

Early voting for the Nov. 7 Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board election starts Oct. 17.
Early voting for the Nov. 7 Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board election starts Oct. 17.

Competition for the District 5 school board seat ramped up early and strong after Eric Davis made it known he wouldn’t run for the post he’s held for eight years.

Jeremy Stephenson, a lawyer, segued from a 2015 at-large campaign into a bid for the south Charlotte district seat.

Margaret Marshall, a longtime volunteer for schools and nonprofits that support them, entered the race in January, with support from Davis.

Jim Peterson, a CMS parent who has run for Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg County commissioner, entered the race in July.

District 5 covers a south Charlotte wedge that encompasses some of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods, from Dilworth in the north to Pineville-Matthews Road in the south. It traditionally draws the biggest donations in what tends to be a low-dollar district race, and this year is no exception.

Marshall reports having raised more than $53,000 as of early October, far more than any of the other 19 candidates seeking board seats. Stephenson has raised just over $9,000, and Peterson filed a form saying he doesn’t plan to raise or spend more than $1,000.

An unaffiliated voter, Marshall is making her first run for office after spending years as a PTA officer, a board member of two fund-raising foundations for schools and a volunteer with other education-related groups. Her two daughters graduated from Myers Park High, and she has pulled endorsements from a long list of education and civic leaders.

Marshall says her depth of experience and community contacts position her to represent the district at a time when CMS needs to bring in more partners. She says it’s time to “take a breath on big initiatives and focus on growth and learning.”

Stephenson, who first got involved with CMS when his neighborhood lobbied for a change in its school assignment, came in fourth in the 2015 countywide race for three board seats. At the time he was trying to decide where his only child would start kindergarten; he ended up choosing Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy, a charter school for gifted students.

In the ensuing two years Stephenson has stayed engaged with CMS, attending board meetings and events, touting Olympic High’s success with business partnerships and keeping up a stream of social media commentary. He says his experience as a charter school parent could be a plus for a board trying to navigate an education scene in which the independent public schools play a growing role.

An openly partisan Republican, Stephenson has lined up support from a long list of current and former GOP officeholders, with former Charlotte mayor and charter school advocate Richard Vinroot chairing his committee. He says those connections position him to be the best advocate for CMS and the district.

Peterson’s July entry surprised both of the other two candidates, who had been campaigning for months. He has three children in CMS and says he decided it was time to get more involved. Peterson says he grew up in Charlotte during the era of court-ordered busing for desegregation and is “a big fan of neighborhood schools.”

Peterson talks about building fundamental math and reading skills, reducing class sizes and ending suspension of preK-2 students. He says he has connections with members of both parties that would help rebuild the district’s relationship with state and county officials.

Peterson is also a Republican, in a district where that party holds a slight edge but is almost evenly divided among GOP, Democrats and unaffiliated. It’s the only school board race with two Republicans, and the local party decided to list only Stephenson on its get-out-the-vote fliers.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

District 5

The district

Covers close-in and south Charlotte, from Dilworth to Pineville-Matthews Road.

Almost 121,500 registered voters. 35 percent are Republican, 34 percent unaffiliated, 31 percent Democrat.

Margaret Marshall

CMS connections: Parent of two CMS graduates, volunteer work with schools, fund-raising foundations and a tutoring program.

Political experience: First run for office.

Occupation: Retired CPA.

Lives in: Charlotte’s Foxcroft neighborhood.

Age: 55.

Top issue: Preserving a strong public commitment to CMS.


Jim Peterson

CMS connections: Parent and volunteer.

Political experience: Ran for Charlotte City Council in 2013 and Mecklenburg County commissioner in 2012.

Occupation: Financial services.

Lives in: Charlotte’s Barclay Downs neighborhood.

Age: 45.

Top issue: Building relationships with county and state leaders.


Jeremy Stephenson

CMS connections: Attends many CMS board meetings, works with children in CMS as a Council for Children’s Rights volunteer.

Political experience: Ran for CMS board in 2015.

Occupation: Lawyer.

Lives in: Southeast Charlotte.

Age: 44.

Top issue: Restoring credibility by keeping Clayton Wilcox as superintendent.