Entire Wake school board before voters
Posted November 2, 2016
Cary, N.C. — Wake County Board of Education members find themselves in an unusual situation this year, with all nine seats up for election.
State lawmakers shifted the election schedule in 2013, saying moving school board elections from odd- to even-numbered years would increase voter turnout for the races. The shift also eliminated the staggered terms by board members and reconfigured the board into seven single-member districts and two regional districts, one in the county's urban core and the other in the suburban-rural outer ring. Federal courts threw out the new map, however, so board members are running in their traditional districts.
Board members Jim Martin, Christine Kushner and Zora Felton and former board member Roxie Cash are running unopposed in districts 5, 6, 7 and 3, respectively.
Chairman Tom Benton faces Donald Agee, Mary Beth Ainsworth and Sheila Ellis in District 1. Board member Monica Johnson-Hostler faces Pete Hochstaetter and Mark Ivey in District 2, and board member Keith Sutton faces Heather Elliott in District 4. Gary Lewis, Lindsay Mahaffey and Gil Pagan are vying for the District 8 seat, and board member Bill Fletcher faces Michael Tanbusch in District 9.
Meredith College political science professor David McClennan said that, in a busy election year, the school board races might become an afterthought to many voters.
"They're paying attention to the top of the ballot – the presidential race, the gubernatorial race, the Senate race," McLennan said. "The candidates are having a hard time getting their message out. The voters are having a hard time paying attention."
With 157,000 students and a $1 billion annual budget, the Wake County Public School System is the largest school district in the state and growing daily. The new board will have to deal with the ongoing growth challenge, including renovating old schools, adding new schools and managing technology in the classroom.
"These are the folks who make education policy that effects the kids directly," McLennan said.