School board is ‘flabbergasted’ by lack of interest in seat, but won’t reopen process

Chris Heagarty has applied for the District 7 school board seat on Wake County’s school board. The seat became open after board member Kathy Hartenstine died Sept. 23, 2018.
Chris Heagarty has applied for the District 7 school board seat on Wake County’s school board. The seat became open after board member Kathy Hartenstine died Sept. 23, 2018. Chris Heagarty

Wake County school board members agreed Tuesday not to reopen the application process to replace the late Kathy Hartenstine, despite expressing surprise that only one person applied to fill the vacancy.

Former state Rep. Chris Heagarty was the only person who met the Nov. 26 deadline to apply for the District 7 seat on the school board that represents Morrisville and parts of Cary and northwest Raleigh. Board members agreed to interview Heagarty before deciding whether they need to look for more applicants.

“We should do a public interview, and should we determine in that interview that this is not a viable candidate, then it would strike me we would open it,” said school board member Jim Martin. “If we find a viable candidate, we proceed with that.”

Hartenstine vacancy
The Wake County school board will fill the vacancy created by the September death of board member Kathy Hartenstine.

On Tuesday, Martin was unanimously elected as the new board chairman. Keith Sutton was unanimously elected as the new board vice chairman, replacing Martin. Monika Johnson-Hostler had to step down as chairwoman due to board policy limiting the chair to two consecutive 1-year terms.

The District 7 seat has been vacant since Hartenstine, 68, unexpectedly died on Sept. 23 from what her family said were complications related to the flu. Hartenstine was running unopposed on the Nov. 6 ballot, so the Wake County Board of Elections declared her seat vacant when she got the most votes.

Some concerns were raised Tuesday about whether advertising the vacancy over the Thanksgiving holiday period might have contributed to the lack of interest.

Board member Bill Fletcher said he’d prefer not to only have one candidate. But Fletcher said the people who had talked about organizing write-in campaigns during the election failed to follow through during the two-week application period for the vacancy.

“I’m absolutely flabbergasted that none of those (candidates) showed up in our application box,” Fletcher said. “So I think they have had notice.”

Sutton said it was no different than how five of the nine board members ran unopposed for election this fall.

In his application, Heagarty talked about how he’d “work to honor the legacy of the professional educators who came before me, and the parents and school volunteers who served before them.”

Heagarty, 48, served in the state legislature from 2009 to 2010 and is currently director of the City of Oaks Foundation, a nonprofit conservation and youth development organization.

If Heagarty is selected, he’d finish Hartenstine’s term, which runs through November 2020.

The District 7 seat has seen significant turnover over the past two years.

Zora Felton, a retired Wake teacher, died a week after being re-elected in November 2016. Hartenstine, a retired Wake principal, was appointed to fill the position in January 2017 out of a field that initially included four applicants.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.