The CMS board will see three new faces, but maybe not much change

Vi Lyles wins Charlotte mayor's race

Vi Lyles wins the mayoral race against challenger Kenny Smith to become the city’s first African American female to hold the office on Tuesday, November 7, 2017.
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Vi Lyles wins the mayoral race against challenger Kenny Smith to become the city’s first African American female to hold the office on Tuesday, November 7, 2017.

All three incumbents won re-election to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Tuesday, while the candidates endorsed by departing board members were chosen to take their place.

Voters returned Rhonda Lennon to the District 1 seat, Thelma Byers-Bailey to District 2 and Ruby Jones to District 3. First-time candidates Carol Sawyer, Margaret Marshall and Sean Strain were elected to districts 4, 5 and 6, respectively.

That means there will be no change in the partisan or racial balance of the board, which is made up of five white members, four African-Americans, six Democrats, two Republicans and one unaffiliated voter. There’s not likely to be any dramatic shift in the philosophy of education and leadership, either.

Coupled with approval of a record $922 million in school bonds, the results will likely be seen as a vote of support for a board that steered CMS through a rocky couple of years that featured a superintendent search and a student assignment review.

Tuesday’s vote determined who represents the county’s six districts for the next four years, with three at-large seats remaining unchanged until the 2019 election.

The school board oversees one of America’s largest public school districts, with more than 147,000 students, 19,000 employees and a $1.4 billion budget.

The new board will be sworn in in December and will work with Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who started the job in July, on such tasks as executing student assignment changes, increasing magnet options and ensuring a high-quality education is available in all schools, including dozens that have extremely high poverty levels and low test scores.

District 1

Lennon won a third term representing the north part of the county. She’ll be the board’s senior member when the new group is sworn in in December.

Rhonda Lennon
Rhonda Cheek, District 1 CMS board member

Lennon took 43 percent, with 27 percent for Annette Albright and 23 percent for Jess Miller.

Lennon, a Republican who lives in Cornelius, is a CMS parent who organized families to seek relief from school crowding more than a decade ago. She lost her first bid for the seat in 2005, but has served on the board since 2009.

Miller and Albright are Democrats and first-time candidates who live in north Charlotte.

Amy Moon Hallman was also on the ballot but changed her mind and never campaigned. She got 6 percent anyway.

District 2

Thelma Byers-Bailey, a retired lawyer, won a second term representing the west-southwest Charlotte district with 57 percent of the vote.

Thelma byers-bailey
Thelma Byers-Bailey, District 2 COURTESY_Thelma Byers-Bailey

She defeated political newcomer Lenora Shipp, a retired principal who spent 33 years working for CMS. Shipp received 42 percent of the vote.

Byers-Bailey helped get two westside projects added to the bond package that was approved Tuesday, a move that riled some in the north suburbs but was popular within her district.

District 3

Ruby Jones, who was appointed to the seat three years ago, won with 29 percent of the vote, edging out five other candidates.

Ruby Jones
Ruby Jones, District 3

Jones, a Democrat and retired educator , took over the school board seat after Joyce Waddell, who was elected in 2009, won a state Senate seat in 2010.

Janeen Bryant, making her second run for school board, had 24 percent. She is a CMS parent and former Teach For America teacher who has worked in nonprofit and advocacy groups related to education.

Other candidates were Blanche Penn, a longtime education advocate making her first run for office (15 percent); first-time candidate Emmitt Terrell Butts, a Cabarrus County teacher (15 percent); 25-year-old Olivia Scott, a political newcomer who was the youngest of all the school board candidates (10 percent); and Levester Flowers, a retired banker making his second run for school board (5 percent).

District 4

Carol Sawyer, a former CMS parent and longtime school activist, won the east Charlotte seat being vacated by Tom Tate with 47 percent of the vote.

Carol Sawyer
Carol Sawyer, District 4

Tate, who has held the District 4 seat for 12 years, endorsed Sawyer for the post. She is a Democrat.

Stephanie Sneed, a lawyer and CMS parent making her first run for office, pulled 31 percent, while Queen Thompson, a retired social worker making her third run for school board, got 21 percent.

District 5

First-time candidate Margaret Marshall won the District 5 race decisively, with 64 percent of the vote. The other two candidates had less than 20 percent each.

Margaret Marshall
Margaret Marshall, District 5 CMS board member HANDOUT

A former CMS parent with a long history of volunteering in schools, Marshall had the endorsement of Eric Davis, who is vacating the seat after eight years. She raised more than $50,000, far more than any other board candidate, in her quest to represent the south-central district that includes some of Charlotte’s most affluent neighborhoods. Marshall is an unaffiliated voter, as is Davis.

Lawyer Jeremy Stephenson pulled 19 percent, and CMS parent Jim Peterson got 16 percent. Both are Republicans.

District 6

Sean Strain, a CMS parent who became active in district-level politics during the recent student assignment review, defeated Allen Smith with 57 percent of the vote. Both were first time candidates seeking to replace Paul Bailey, who served one term representing the south suburban district. Bailey, who ran for Matthews mayor this year, endorsed Strain.

Sean Strain
Sean Strain, District 6

Strain, a Republican, helped create CMS Families United for Public Education, which lobbied the board to protect successful neighborhood schools while offering magnets as options.

Smith, an unaffiliated voter whose children are too young for school, campaigned for a move toward controlled choice, in which school assignment isn’t directly linked to where students live. He received 42 percent.

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


District 1

Annette Albright 27.07%

Amy Moon Hallman 6.36%

Rhonda Lennon (i) 43.23%

Jess Miller 22.61%

District 2

Thelma Byers-Bailey (i) 57.28%

Lenora Shipp 41.86%

District 3

Janeen Bryant 24.03%

Emmitt Terrell Butts 15.45%

Levester Flowers 5.37%

Ruby M. Jones (i) 29.1%

Blanche Penn 15.18%

Olivia Scott 10.2%

District 4

Carol Sawyer 47.49%

Stephanie M. Sneed 31.09%

Queen Thompson 20.76%

District 5

Margaret Marshall 64.09%

Jim Peterson 16.15%

Jeremy A. Stephenson 19.28%

District 6

Allen Smith 42.38%

Sean Strain 56.69%

195 of 195 precincts reporting

Vi Lyles wins the mayoral race against challenger Kenny Smith to become the city’s first African American female to hold the office on Tuesday, November 7, 2017.