Wake County School Board proposes extending terms to four years, approves new maps

Resolution bypasses voters with four-year, staggered district seat elections

Poll worker Sheila Hawkes removes an "I Voted" sticker to hand to a voter at an early voting center at Ida B. Wells Middle School, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

RALEIGH — On March 15, the Wake County Public Schools Board of Education voted 8-1 to approve new “Option B” maps to be used in their own upcoming elections in November. 

The district maps are typically redrawn every 10 years when U.S. Census figures are updated. The board presentation included a map to locate one’s new district:  https://arcg.is/1PX0yr0 

In addition to approving their own new district maps, the Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS) board also passed a resolution asking the Wake County Board of Elections to approve the school board returning to a four-year, staggered term cycle instead of the current process of the entire board being elected every two years.  

“WHEREAS, on March 9, 2022, the Board determined that ‘Option B4’ was the preferred plan of the Board and would satisfy the requirements of one-person/one-vote,” the resolution reads in part. 

The resolution proposes changing certain seats to four-year terms in the upcoming November election. Those seats, according to the resolution, are Districts 1, 2, 7, and 9. 

The District 1 seat is currently held by Heather Scott, District 2 is Monika Johnson-Hostler, District 7 is Chris Heagarty, and District 9 is Karen Carter. 

Raleigh Attorney Jacob Arthur has already announced he will be running to replace Chris Heagarty in District 7.  Arthur battled WCPSS’ grievance process unsuccessfully for nearly half a year over medical mask exemptions for his two school-aged children. 

The resolution also says the remaining Districts 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8 “could be elected for two-year (shorter) terms since they received five-year (longer) terms under Session Law 2013- 110” and that going forward “all elections would be for four-year terms.” 

District 5 is currently held by Jim Martin, who has already indicated he is not running for reelection this fall. District 3 is currently held by Roxie Cash, District 4 is the newly appointed Tara Waters, District 6 is Christine Kushner and District 8 is the current Chair, Lindsay Mahaffey. 

Former WCPSS school board candidate Steve Bergstrom announced last year he would be running again. Under the new maps, Bergstrom will face Board Chair Lindsay Mahaffey for the District 8 seat. 

Newcomer Wing Ng, a first-generation Chinese American, has announced he will run for the District 3 seat currently held by Roxie Cash.  

In November 2021, the Wake County Board of Commissioners (WBOC) approved extending their own terms to four years and to staggering seat elections. Prior to the change, all seven WBOC members were elected every two years.  

Officials with the Wake County Board of Elections indicated they don’t plan to act on the resolution, citing a lack of statutory authority to do so and that the board’s resolution is merely a request and not a directive. 

Critics protested the WBOC changes, saying that the move bypasses voters by keeping some commissioners in office years longer than their original terms. The same situation is now unfolding with the WCPSS school board.  

Prior to 2013, WCPSS school board member elections had been staggered, with members holding four-year terms, and the board altered their own district maps every 10 years to even out representation due to population shifts per U.S. Census data. 

In 2013 that process changed, with the General Assembly redrawing the school board’s districts. The following year, in 2014, lawmakers also redrew county commissioner maps.  

Both sets of maps came under legal fire, and the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the maps unconstitutional. A consent order following the ruling is responsible for the current non-staggered, two-year terms. That order was valid until the 2020 Census, unless the General Assembly made new maps or took some type of action. 

Lawmakers at the legislature did not address the matter this year, leaving both the WBOC and WCPSS school board essentially free to extend some of their own election cycle tickets by returning to four-year, staggered elections.   

Similar to Wake County, the Charlotte City Council is also looking to extend their terms from two years to four. Council members in Charlotte have debated making that change as well as staggering the elections of members a number of times in the past but have yet to take action. 

About A.P. Dillon 1133 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_