90 candidates seek 38 seats in first round of May school board elections
By Alex Schaffer and Daniel Anderson
A total of 11 school districts across four states are holding school board elections for 38 seats on May 6, 2014. These races have drawn 90 candidates vying for the seats, and only six of the elections are uncontested. These districts face a variety of issues from budget shortfalls and administrative controversies to public concern over charter schools. New York's sole election features 13 candidates vying for just three seats on the Buffalo Public Schools Board of Education. In Montana, the Billings Public Schools Board of Trustees will receive at least two new members with newcomer Tanya Ludwig running unopposed and challengers Susan Layton and Eric H. Olsen competing for the High School District B seat. In the Single Member District #2 race, incumbent Janna Hafer will face meteorologist Virgil Middendorf.
In Virginia, Chesapeake Public Schools is certain to see at least two new members after only three incumbents filed for the five at-large seats. Christie Craig, Harry A. Murphy and Michael J. Woods are taking on seven challengers. Incumbent Carlton S. Ashby is running unopposed to return to the Newport News School Board, although three newcomers are competing for the vacant at-large seat. In the same district, incumbents Pricillia E. Burnett and Jeff Stodghill will each face one challenger for their respective seats. Hampton City Schools will hold elections in the wake of a $7 million budget cut approved by the school board. If the budget reduction is approved by the Hampton City Council as part of the city's annual budget, the school district will eliminate 311.5 full-time positions. Incumbent Linwood D. Harper was the sole dissenting vote on the budget cut.
North Carolina is holding elections in six districts for 20 school board seats. Durham Public Schools features three competitive elections in the district, which has received attention for joining a lawsuit with the Wake County school board against a state law that eliminates teacher tenure. The district is also still dealing with the resignation of Eric Becoats, its controversial superintendent, and public concern over the county's influx of charter schools. Onslow County Schools is holding elections after a dispute over how the county will pay for a $145 million plan to build six new schools over 10 years. Iredell-Statesville Schools will hold elections for four positions, which are contested by 14 candidates. The district is attempting to construct a sixth high school to alleviate overcrowding at two existing high schools, but the plan will require approval of a November bond referendum to fund the project.
Spotlight: Buffalo Public Schools
The election in Buffalo Public Schools will be one of the most competitive school board elections in the United States this year. Although only three of the nine seats on the board are up for election, the winners of those seats will determine whether Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold retains her slim 5-4 majority or whether former gubernatorial candidate Carl P. Paladino's faction takes control of the district's governing body. The retirement of Nevergold's ally, Florence Johnson, leaves one of the board seats vacant, and Nevergold herself is also up for re-election. Fellow incumbent John Licata is an ally of Paladino, so it is possible that Nevergold could expand her governing majority by sweeping all three seats.
Board members and candidates are split on a range of important issues facing the school district. Paladino's faction has fought to remove controversial Superintendent Pamela Brown from office for months, which resulted a narrow 5-4 board ruling in September 2013 to retain her. In a survey conducted by The Buffalo News, six of the 13 candidates stated that they would vote to terminate Brown's contract. Those candidates include John Licata, Adrian Harris, Wendy Mistretta, Larry Quinn, Sergio Rodriguez and Patricia B. Pierce. Five candidates, including Nevergold, Bernie Tolbert, Stephon Wright, Samuel P. Davis and Gizelle Stokes, stated that they would vote to keep her. Two candidates, Stephen Buccilli and Ralph R. Hernandez, did not complete the survey.
Common Core education reforms are another divisive issue for the school board candidates. However, several candidates who disagree with one another over Superintendent Brown still agree on Common Core. Nevergold, Licata, Harris, Mistretta, Wright and Davis all oppose Common Core, while Quinn, Rodriguez, Tolbert, Pierce and Stokes support it. In an unusual display of unity, all 11 candidates who responded to the survey did agree that the school district has done a poor job of implementing the reforms. Superintendent Brown is a vocal supporter of Common Core, testifying to the New York State Senate Education Committee about the reforms and insisting during a local "listening tour" that the district would continue to implement the new curriculum and tests despite protests.
Note: An (i) next to a candidate's name indicates incumbent status.
Billings Public Schools
Single Member District #2
High School District B
Buffalo Public Schools
Durham Public Schools
Chesapeake Public Schools
Hampton Roads Seat B
- School board elections, 2014
- Montana school board elections, 2014
- Montana elections, 2014
- New York school board elections, 2014
- New York elections, 2014
- North Carolina school board elections, 2014
- North Carolina elections, 2014
- Virginia school board elections, 2014
- Virginia elections, 2014
- Daily Press, "Hampton City Council shifts focus to school cuts," April 23, 2014
- Daily Press, "Hampton School Board approves budget in emotional meeting," April 2, 2014
- News Observer, "Durham school board votes to join Guilford County lawsuit in teacher-tenure fight," March 5, 2014
- News Observer, "Durham schools chief Becoats resigns amid criticism," December 19, 2013
- News Observer, "Charter schools press Durham’s district schools," February 1, 2014
- The Chronicle, "Charter schools on rise in NC," February 6, 2014
- Statesville Record & Landmark, "I-SS discusses potential new school," February 10, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "School Board candidates begin seeking petition signatures," February 25, 2014
- WBFO 88.7: NPR News & More, "Superintendent Brown offers job assessment," March 6, 2014
- Buffalo Public Schools, "Files and Documents," accessed April 16, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "Meet the candidates," accessed April 29, 2014
- New York State Senate, "Testimony, Dr. Pamela C. Brown, Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent," October 16, 2013
- Time Warner Cable News, "Superintendent says Common Core curriculum not going anywhere," March 31, 2014