Tuesday, November 8, 2011

CMS board: Big change, little participation

The totals are in, and the overwhelming winner in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board election was "let someone else decide."

About 86 percent of Mecklenburg's registered voters opted out of a race that had 14 people vying for three board seats. To break that down: 609,941 people are registered, and 98,338, or 16.1 percent, voted Tuesday. It's likely that a significant number cast municipal ballots but skipped the school board race (230,451 board votes were tallied, but each voter could choose up to three candidates).

Ericka Ellis-Stewart, who won a decisive first place, got 35,000 votes -- less than 6 percent of all registered voters. Tim Morgan advanced from a district seat to a countywide one, allowing the board to choose his replacement for District 6, with just under 25,000 votes, representing the support of 4 percent of possible voters.

To make the will of the voters even more baffling, 10,400 voted for DeShauna McLamb, who said nothing and made no appearances after filing for office. More than 11,300 chose Lisa Hundley, a newcomer who announced in early October that she would be too ill with cancer to serve.

What all this means for students, parents and taxpayers remains to be seen, but it's bound to be significant. The current nine-person board has been led by a moderate tri-partisan coalition  (Democrats Joe White and Tom Tate, Republicans Rhonda Lennon and Tim Morgan, and unaffiliated Eric Davis and Trent Merchant). The new board will have five Democrats, as newcomers Ellis-Stewart and Mary McCray join district representatives Tom Tate, Richard McElrath and Joyce Waddell. If they vote as a block, they could push the board significantly to the left.

It's the nature of school board work and a divided community that decisions spark complaints. There are plenty of tough issues ahead. It'll be interesting to see how quickly people start to howl about the choices they let their neighbors make.

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