Despite leadership turmoil and an aggressive campaign based on anxiety about busing, Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board incumbents Ericka Ellis-Stewart and Mary McCray hung onto their seats Tuesday and were joined by the like-minded Elyse Dashew.
Jeremy Stephenson, the sole Republican among the nine at-large candidates, fell almost 4,000 votes short of a seat, despite a slew of GOP endorsements and last-minute email blasts saying he was the only candidate who would oppose “forced busing.”
Dashew, a CMS parent who won on her second try for school board, campaigned on her history of working with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, her support for school diversity and her ability to work with a wide range of people.
The three winners will be sworn in for four-year terms at the board’s December meeting, joining six district representatives.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The new board must quickly make crucial decisions about a superintendent search and a student assignment review. Also looming in the early months of 2016 are work on the budget and decisions about school construction and renovation needs.
Board races are nonpartisan, but party affiliation often plays a role. Democrats make up the largest group of Mecklenburg County voters, and Ellis-Stewart, Dashew and McCray are all Democrats.
With all 195 precincts reporting, Ellis-Stewart had 18.33 percent of the votes, Dashew had 14.91 percent and McCray had 13.74 percent.
Jeremy Stephenson, the only Republican in the nine-candidate field, was fourth with 11.78 percent. Larry Bumgarner, the only unaffiliated candidate, was fifth with 10.92 percent.
45% of Mecklenburg’s registered voters are Democrats
29% are unaffiliated
25% are Republicans
Ellis-Stewart, a nonprofit executive, was once again the top votegetter by a significant margin. In 2011 she was coming off her role as a parent activist questioning CMS decisions related to 2010 school closings.
She has continued to be a vocal proponent of doing more to increase school diversity and improve the prospects of students in high-poverty, low-performing schools. She has said she does not support 1970s style busing but wants to see a combination of stronger magnets and more attractive neighborhood schools. A school board committee has begun discussing a range of options for student assignment, and the direction the board will take remains far from clear.
Both Ellis-Stewart and McCray received several endorsements this year, including such groups as the Black Political Caucus and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators.
McCray, a retired teacher and former CMAE president, has chaired the board for the last three years, a stint that included a national award for effectiveness and the messy ouster of Superintendent Heath Morrison last fall. She has been publicly quiet on most issues, including student assignment and the prospects for a superintendent search, during the campaign.
Dashew, who has been active in bond campaigns and efforts to raise financial and political support for CMS, came in fourth in 2011, falling short by less than 1,400 votes. That time she was unaffiliated; this year she registered as a Democrat. Like Ellis-Stewart, she says she supports unspecified efforts to increase school diversity but not “forced busing in the old-fashioned way.”
Dashew has received support from a range of community leaders and says her experience fighting for CMS means she can build support as the school board tackles a superintendent search and student assignment.
Stephenson has run an aggressive anti-busing campaign, with supporters such as state Sen. Jeff Tarte sending mass emails in the last few days warning that “forced busing” is in the works. Stephenson called for extending the tenure of Superintendent Ann Clark, whose contract ends July 31.
Top three finishers will fill at-large seats.
Angela Ambroise 6.37%
Janeen Bryant 10.57%
Larry Bumgarner 10.92%
Elyse Dashew 14.91%
Ericka Ellis-Stewart 18.33%
Levester Flowers 5.72%
Mary T. McCray 13.74%
Jeremy Stephenson 11.78%
Amelia Stinson-Wesley 7.44%
(195 of 195 precincts reporting)