Voters elected two new Wake County school board members on Tuesday who overcame heavy odds to defeat more well-financed, establishment-supported candidates.
Donald Agee defeated school board Chairman Tom Benton in a four-way race to represent northern and eastern Wake in District 1. Lindsay Mahaffey defeated two other newcomers for the open District 8 seat representing southwest Wake.
Voters also re-elected six school board members and Roxie Cash, a former board member who ran unopposed. Tuesday’s results aren’t expected to lead to a major change in the direction of the state’s largest school system.
Pre-election campaign finance reports showed both Agee and Mahaffey were significantly behind their opponents in fundraising. Their opponents also had the backing of current school board members, political parties and community leaders.
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“It goes to show that things like the school board go beyond partisan politics,” Mahaffey said Wednesday. “I’m very glad it’s a non-partisan race.
“I spoke with people who were strong Republicans and who were strong Democrats. We don’t teach children one way or the other based on party politics.”
Mahaffey had raised less than half as much money as second-place finisher Gil Pagan, who was endorsed by the Wake County Republican Party.
Mahaffey raised one-tenth the amount collected by Gary Lewis, a Republican who finished third. Lewis’ supporters included school board members, the Wake County chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators and labor groups.
Mahaffey, a substitute teacher who previously taught full time, was the lone Democrat in the District 8 race. But she wasn’t endorsed by the Wake County Democratic Party.
“I hope to work with people regardless of their political philosophies because it ultimately comes down to what’s best for the children of Wake County,” said Mahaffey, who campaigned on her teaching background.
In District 1, Agee was endorsed by the Wake County Republican Party. The former Wake County school facilities department employee campaigned as a conservative who would make the district more efficient.
Agee was fighting against Benton’s more than two-to-one fundraising edge that allowed the incumbent to send mailers touting endorsements from Wake NCAE, most of the District 1 mayors and other community leaders. Benton was also backed by the Wake County Democratic Party and several school board members.
Agee may have benefited from a state law that moved the Wake school board elections out of odd-numbered years when only municipal races were on the ballot. Far more ballots were cast Tuesday for school board candidates than in prior contests.
Even though Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won Wake County, Benton had to contend with how District 1 voters went for President-elect Donald Trump, the Republican nominee.
“It’s unfortunate that these school board elections were moved to even years because I’m not sure they got the attention they deserved,” said Perry Woods, a political consultant who worked for both Benton and Lewis. “It appears that partisanship was an important factor in voter choice.”