Tom Benton applies for Wake County school board seat

aspecht@newsobserver.comJanuary 3, 2013 

A retired Wake County principal has become the second person to apply for the district’s open school board seat.

Tom Benton of Zebulon said that his 32 years in education would help the often divided Wake County school board. He’s seeking the District 1 seat vacated by Chris Malone that represents Wake Forest, Rolesville and most of eastern Wake.

“I’ve got some useful experience, and I consider myself a consensus builder... This is a really good opportunity to step in and try to have an impact,” said Benton, 62. “I’m too young to stay at home and do nothing.”

Benton was the last principal of Zebulon High School, which became a middle school in 1989. He later served as principal of Durant Road Middle School in North Raleigh until he retired in 2005.

He was named Principal of the Year in both Wake and Pender counties and was later named 2004-05 N.C. Middle School Association’s Region 3 Administrator of the Year.

Benton, a registered Democrat, had publicly endorsed board member Kevin Hill in his re-election bid in 2011. Hill’s victory in a runoff election against Republican challenger Heather Losurdo allowed Democrats to regain the board majority.

Benton declined to talk about his views on hot-button issues such as the student assignment plan. Instead he stressed the need for bipartisanship and addressing the schools that need the most help.

“There are a lot of issues facing the board right now. I see a real need to represent the (eastern Wake) district,” he said. “I’d like to make sure we’re honest about the amount of resources students need in order to receive a quality education.”

Education advocates in eastern Wake say they’re frustrated the region doesn’t receive more attention from the school board considering its low SAT scores and relatively high rates of poverty.

Malone, who formerly represented part of Knightdale, Wake Forest, Rolesville, Wendell, and Zebulon, is from Wake Forest. In November, he won his bid for a seat in the N.C. House and resigned from the school board in December.

Wendy Ford of Wake Forest is the only other person who has applied so far for the board vacancy. Ford, also 62, served 19 years on the school board of the Churchville-Chili Central School District near Rochester, N.Y.

The school board is officially nonpartisan but is led by a Democratic majority, and election records show that Ford is a registered Republican. Malone, a Republican, has said he’d hope the board would appoint someone who has similar views to him to represent District 1. But Malone has no vote in the matter.

School board chairman Keith Sutton has said he wants the board to fill the vacancy by the end of January so the new person could be sworn into office in February. Malone’s replacement would finish out his term, which runs through November. The new board member could also run in 2013 for a full four-year term.

The deadline to apply for the open seat is Friday.

Specht: 919-829-4826

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