After 5 incumbents jump ship, dozens file to run for school board in Wake County

Hundreds of parents and students protest continued mask mandates outside of the Wake County Public Schools District headquarters on July 20, 2021.

RALEIGH — Over two dozen candidates have filed to run for Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS) board this November after five of the nine incumbent members indicated they would not seek reelection.

Wake County is the largest school district in the state and the fifteenth largest nationwide. WCPSS has tens of thousands of employees and a current operating budget of $1.94 billion. The district has 198 schools and an estimated 158,761 students.

Jim Martin, Christine Kushner, Karen Carter, Roxie Cash, and Heather Scott are the five incumbents not seeking another term. Martin and Kushner are the longest-serving board members having been first elected in 2011. Carter is the newest member, elected for the first time in 2020.

During the pandemic, parents held protests outside of the district headquarters over the board’s continued forced use of masks in schools as districts across the state ended their use. Parents and citizens also protested inappropriate materials, books critics deemed pornographic, as well as teacher training in Critical Race Theory and use of the controversial theory in classroom lessons.

The WCPSS board also faced controversy over the replacement of former Board Chairman Keith Sutton after it was revealed that the candidate preferred by the majority of the board, Craston Artis, did not live in the district he sought to serve. Parents criticized Mahaffey over a lack of transparency on the matter.

Even before the pandemic, the WCPSS board has faced criticism over increasing budget amounts and for requesting millions more from the county each year despite falling enrollment. The board also saw sustained protests over curriculum, in particular, the board’s selecting MVP Math materials for use in high schools. On several occasions, the board received pushback from parents upset over multiple school reassignment policies mainly impacting students in southern Wake County.

The stakes in the November general election are high. All nine seats on the WCPSS board are up for reelection, but the board has since changed the way the seats will be elected in the future.

A resolution approved earlier this year changes Districts 1, 2, 7 and 9 seats to four-year terms after this November’s election. These seats are currently held by Heather Scott (District 1), Monika Johnson-Hostler (District 2), Chris Heagarty (District 7) and Karen Carter (District 9).

The remaining Districts 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 seats will get a two-year shorter term since they received five-year terms under Session Law 2013- 110. District 3 is currently held by Roxie Cash, District 4 is held by the newly-appointed Tara Waters, District 6 is Christine Kushner, District 8 is current board chair Lindsay Mahaffey, and District 5 is Jim Martin.

The WCPSS school board races are nonpartisan, but a substantial number of Republicans, many parents of students in the district, filed to run. The only district with more Democrats than Republicans running are District 6 and 2. Only two candidates are registered as unaffiliated.

District 1
Cheryl Caulfield, Republican, cheryl4wakeschools.com
Ben Clapsaddle, Democrat, benforwakeschools.com 

District 2
Dorian Fayette Hamilton, Democrat, Vote4Dorian
Monica Ruiz, Republican, monicaruiz4wake.com
Monika Johnson-Hostler (Incumbent), Democrat, monikaforschools.com 

District 3
Doug Hammack, Unaffiliated, DougforWake
Brooks Christopher Lowe, Republican
Wing Ng, Republican, wingforwakeschools.com 

District 4
Daniel L. Grant-King, Democrat, daniel4wakeschools.poliengine.com
Becky Lew-Hobbs, Republican, becky4wake.com
Michael T. Williams, Republican
Tarashanda “Tara” Waters, Unaffiliated, waters4wake.com 

District 5
Ross Milton Beamon, Republican
Jackie Boegel, Republican, jackieboegelforwakeboe.com
Lynn Edmonds, Democrat, lynnforwake.com
Dawn Townsend, Unaffiliated 

District 6
Mary Freeman, Democrat
Sam Hershey, Democrat, samforwake.com
Dajma Livingston, Democrat, dlivingston4wake.com
Patrice Fontaine Nealon, Republican
Chad Stall, Republican, ChadStall.com 

District 7
Jacob Arthur, Republican, jacobarthurwakeschools.com
Katie Long,Unaffiliated, long4change.com
John Christopher “Chris” Heagarty (Incumbent), Democrat, heagarty4schools.com 

District 8
Steve Bergstrom, Republican, steveforschools.com
Lindsay Mahaffey (Incumbent), Democrat, ElectLindsay.com 

District 9
Tara Ann Cartwright, Republican, Cartwright4Wake
Michele Morrow, Republican,  michele4wakeschools.com
Tyler Swanson, Democrat, swansonforwake.com 

Hamilton ran for the District 2 seat in 2020, coming in third out of three candidates on the ballot behind Johnson-Hostler and Greg Hahn.

Lew-Hobbs and Williams had applied to replace former member and Board Chair Keith Sutton for the D-4 seat. The board ended up choosing Waters to fill Sutton’s spot instead.

Edmonds is endorsed by the anti-school choice group “Network for Public Education Action,” founded and run by Diane Ravitch. Edmonds is “vehemently opposed to private school vouchers” and believes charter schools have been “perverted into a for-profit, privatization tool.” Additionally, Edmonds is a Founding Member of the group Great Schools In Wake, known for promoting the desired policies of the current school board as well as serving as the outreach director for Public Schools First NC, an activist organization that opposes school choice.

Stall has used public comment portions of some board meetings to challenge books with inappropriate content such as graphic sexual descriptions and imagery. He had also been critical of the continued mask mandate and the district denied a mask waiver for his child.

Arthur and his family fought for mask exemptions during the pandemic for his children using the WCPSS appeals system which took nearly half a year and ultimately resulted in a denial of their claim and overriding recommendations from a double-board certified ENT that the children should not wear masks.

Long also opposed continued mask mandates. As parents and activists were serving boards with legal action involving Surety bonds and other insurance policies, Long served the WCPSS board with papers over the issue on Jan. 18 of this year.

Bergstrom unsuccessfully challenged Mahaffey in 2020.

Swanson has an arrest record stemming from the NC NAACP’s Moral Monday protests. In May of 2013, he was arrested on charges of Second Degree Trespass, Failure to disperse on command, and posting or displaying signs and placards.

A recent fundraiser held for Swanson was attended by state Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake), according to Swanson’s campaign Facebook page. Also in attendance were former board member Bill Fletcher, current WCPSS Board Chair Lindsay Mahaffey, and political and education activist Yevonne Brannon of Public Schools First NC.

 

This article has been updated to correct the party affiliation of Dorian Hamilton.
About A.P. Dillon 717 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_