Three Democrats won seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Tuesday, but a look at precinct results shows a county divided over leadership of public education.
Nine people contended for the three at-large seats, seeking leadership roles at a time when the school board is about to embark on a superintendent search and major student assignment decisions. Each voter could choose up to three candidates.
Incumbents Ericka Ellis-Stewart and Mary McCray and newcomer Elyse Dashew took the top three spots, with a combined 47 percent of approximately 200,000 votes cast. All three ran campaigns that were positive about Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and supportive of the board’s ongoing review of student assignment.
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But more than half the votes went to someone other than the winners, and 36 of 195 precincts were led by candidates other than the top three. Precincts in the northern and southeastern suburbs mostly went for Jeremy Stephenson, a Republican who warned that the board is preparing to bus students for diversity, and Larry Bumgarner, an independent who says CMS does a poor job of serving its customers.
Ellis-Stewart, a nonprofit executive and former CMS parent, took 18.35 percent of the vote and led or tied for first place in 99 precincts. Most of them run from southwest to northeast Charlotte, a band that includes most of the district’s high-poverty urban schools.
Dashew, a CMS parent who has been active in campaigns for school bonds and increased funding from the county, took 14.88 percent and led the ticket or tied for first in 55 precincts. Her strongest support was clustered in the relatively affluent section of south Charlotte where she lives, though she also finished high in other precincts around the county.
McCray, a retired teacher and former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators president, took the top spot or tied for it in only seven precincts, but ran strong in many others, especially in the band where Ellis-Stewart topped the ticket. She took 13.77 percent of the vote.
McCray, who chairs the school board, said Wednesday that one of the board’s first tasks is “making sure that we pay attention to what the community is saying, and not just some of the community but all of the community.”
Stephenson, a lawyer making his first run for office, took 11.77 percent of the vote, about 4,000 votes short of McCray. But he topped the list in 25 suburban precincts.
During the campaign, Stephenson was sharply critical of candidates – including Ellis-Stewart and Dashew – and advocacy groups that say CMS needs to boost diversity and break up concentrations of poverty. He said Wednesday that he believes suburban families who responded to his campaign continue to feel shut out of CMS discussions. He said concerns about overcrowded schools have also been ignored.
“I am for truly inclusive dialogue with all sectors of our community, which right now is not occurring,” he said.
Bumgarner, making his fourth run for the school board, took 10.91 percent and led in nine south/southeastern precincts.
Bumgarner has sounded various themes of dissatisfaction with CMS in his campaigns, saying the district shortchanges suburban schools on per-pupil spending and lacks focus on education. He and Stephenson tended to do well in the same precincts, though Dashew, Ellis-Stewart and McCray also pulled strongly in those areas.
Amelia Stinson-Wesley, a minister who served an appointed stint on the school board, finished seventh Tuesday with 7.44 percent. But she was the top vote-getter in two precincts in Pineville, where she lives.
Data reporter Gavin Off contributed.