CMS board: Newcomers Bailey, Byers-Bailey join 4 returning incumbents

ahelms@charlotteobserver.comNovember 5, 2013 

  • Results Members serve four-year terms. Three at-large seats will be up for election in 2015. District 1 Rhonda Lennon→  64.54% Christine Mast →  34.78% (23 of 23 precincts reporting) District 2 Thelma Byers-Bailey→  70.31% Richard A. McElrath Sr. →  29.26% (30 of 30 precincts reporting) District 3 Joyce Waddell→  98.86% (24 of 24 precincts reporting) District 4 Tom Tate→  56.94% Queen Elizabeth Thompson →  42.56% (36 of 36 precincts reporting) District 5 Eric Davis→  82.95% Edward Donaldson →  16.78% (52 of 52 precincts reporting) District 6 Paul Bailey→  59.74% Bolyn McClung →  26.69% Doug Wrona →  13.00% (30 of 30 precincts reporting)

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board got two new members Tuesday, as Thelma Byers-Bailey defeated Richard McElrath for the District 2 seat and Paul Bailey claimed the District 6 seat, which had no incumbent.

Incumbents Eric Davis, Rhonda Lennon and Tom Tate won their races, and Joyce Waddell had no opposition in her bid for re-election. The election fell at a time when the once-contentious board has been noted for working in harmony and Superintendent Heath Morrison, hired unanimously last year, gets high marks from many in the community.

The results are final but unofficial.

Throughout a relatively low-key campaign, incumbents talked about how they have coalesced as a team that, in Tate’s words, “is getting along well and doing good work.” Voters also weighed in with strong support for the $290 million bond package for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

“I think the voters are recognizing the progress our school system has made and the progress of the board and superintendent as a governing team,” said Davis, who pulled almost 83 percent of the votes in his south Charlotte District 5. “I think it’s a great statement of support for our school system and an opportunity to rally around our students and teachers.”

McElrath, who has represented the west/southwest District 2 for the last four years, was the only incumbent to lose his seat. That district bore the brunt of controversial school closings in 2010. Byers-Bailey, who supported McElrath in his 2009 campaign, said he and the board failed to listen to people whose neighborhoods were harmed by the closings. She took 70 percent of the vote.

“I think I won because I was out in the community talking to the people,” Byers-Bailey said. “What I kept getting back from them was they wanted someone to listen to what they had to say.”

Byers-Bailey, a lawyer whose parents were well-known educators, is a leader in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood association.

Several voters said Tuesday they came to vote on bonds and the Charlotte mayor’s race but knew little or nothing about school board candidates.

“I asked the Lord,” said Ginger Osborne, who was voting at Community House Middle School and said she knew nothing about the three District 6 candidates going in. His guidance? “It was the first one on the ballot, that Paul guy.”

The south/southeast suburban District 6 was the only one without an incumbent, after Tim Morgan won an at-large seat in 2011 and appointee Amelia Stinson-Wesley decided not to run.

Bailey, mayor pro tem of Matthews, took almost 60 percent of the votes in a three-way race. He had cast himself as the best person to work with the current board and state legislators. Several elected officials from the district, including Morgan, endorsed Bailey.

“I think it’s going to be a very cooperative board to work with,” Bailey said. “My approach from the beginning has been that it was an excellent board and we have an excellent superintendent.”

First-time candidates Bolyn McClung, who got almost 27 percent of the vote, and Doug Wrona, who got 13 percent, touted their personal experience. McClung, a printer and IT manager from Pineville, has attended school board meetings regularly for the last four years, while Wrona is a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher.

Tate took 57 percent of the votes in his district, compared with 43 percent for challenger Queen Elizabeth Thompson. Tate, first elected in 2005, is the board’s senior member. Thompson ran once before, in 2003.

Davis, who chaired the board after his election in 2009, had the biggest margin of victory. He faced first-time candidate Edward Donaldson, who said he was motivated to run by his frustration with CMS when his son entered kindergarten. Donaldson called for changes in student assignment and the structure of the district, and he moved his child to a private school.

In north suburban District 1, incumbent Lennon won with 65 percent. She faced first-time candidate Christine Mast. Lennon cast herself as a member of a high-functioning team who could advocate for the district while cooperating with other members. Mast has been an outspoken critic of CMS and the board.

Davis and Lennon both supported the CMS bonds, while their challengers opposed them.

Several voters interviewed Tuesday and in early voting expressed positive views of the bonds and CMS.

“There’s nothing any more important to the future of this state than our schools,” said Kash Long, who voted Tuesday at Quail Hollow Presbyterian Church.

“Whatever it takes to improve the qualify of schools is a good thing,” said Debra Blahitka, who voted early at the North Regional Library in Huntersville.

The district representatives join three at-large members – Morgan, Ericka Ellis-Stewart and current chair Mary McCray – who are halfway through their four-year terms.

The nine-member board oversees the education of roughly 147,000 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade and a budget that tops $1.2 billion. CMS is one of the region’s largest employers. The district is gearing up to increase academic options in an effort to prepare students for careers and college while competing with a growing number of charter schools.

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter: @anndosshelms

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