Dashew, De La Jara and Shipp win seats on CMS board

Elyse Dashew and Jennifer De La Jara won two of the three at-large seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, according to the unofficial election results, as Lenora Shipp tightly edged out Stephanie Sneed for the third spot.

With all precincts reporting, incumbent Dashew took 12.9% of the vote, followed by De La Jara with 12.4%. Shipp had 10.6% and Sneed had 10.5%, with Shipp leading by just 187 votes.

State law allows losing candidates to demand a recount if the difference in votes for the winning candidate is no more than 1%.

The race for three seats on the school board has been a crowded one, with 13 candidates on the ballot whose experience ranges from former CMS educators to small business owners. Dashew was the only current board member in the race.

The remaining two open seats are a result of board chair Mary McCray and member Ericka Ellis-Stewart deciding to step down this fall, after both having served on the board since 2011. McCray says she plans to retire, and Ellis-Stewart says she will pursue other avenues of community advocacy and activism.

Dashew has served on the school board since 2015, after coming in fourth during her first run for an at-large seat in 2011. She has been involved with advocacy for public schools since 2009 and is a CMS parent.

Dashew now serves as the vice-chair of the board. She also chairs the Municipal Education Advisory Committee, which CMS formed to mend relationships between the district and the suburban towns after state legislators passed a measure last year that allowed the towns to form their own charter schools.

The bill emerged after complaints from suburban towns about overcrowding in their neighborhood schools. Crowded schools and whether the board responded appropriately came up repeatedly during this year’s campaign.

In response to the bill, the CMS board passed the Municipal Concerns Act, which Dashew voted for. The act moved towns that signed on to the bill to the back of the line for construction of new schools.

Recently, Dashew has said that she felt relationships with the towns are improving. The board unanimously voted to remove Cornelius from the low-priority list after it showed a good faith effort to work with the district to solve school overcrowding.

De La Jara, a former ESL teacher in Cabarrus County, currently oversees literacy partnerships with CMS schools at International House. She has emphasized her work with immigrant students in Charlotte and positioned herself as an advocate for that community’s needs if elected.

Shipp is a former CMS principal, with more than 30 years of experience as an educator. She previously ran but did not win a race for a district seat in 2017. She says she would draw on that experience, as someone who has recently worked in schools and knows what works and what doesn’t to guide her work as a board member.

Sneed, who also ran unsuccessfully for a school board district seat in 2017, is a former trial attorney who worked in child protective services. She works with the CLT Westside Education Think Tank, which works with children who attend schools in west Charlotte.

The election comes three months after the resignation of former Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, after the board suspended him for unspecified reasons. The board has never publicly stated what led to his departure, prompting criticism for a lack of transparency to the community.

The winners of Tuesday’s race will begin their four-year terms tackling a variety of issues almost immediately.

Shortly after they are sworn in, board members will enter budget season for the district. In addition to approving the district’s 2020-2021 budget, the final version of the current year’s $1.6 billion operating budget remains in flux because state legislators have not yet passed a state budget.

Board members must also make big decisions about school construction, including choosing a location for the new south Charlotte high school after community push-back to a possible site in the Olde Providence neighborhood.

Other issues that have come up during the campaign include school safety, student assignment, overcrowding and equity of student outcomes.

Annie Ma covers education for the Charlotte Observer. She previously worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, Chalkbeat New York, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Oregonian. She grew up in Florida and graduated from Dartmouth College.