Wake Ed

All nine Wake County school board seats on ballot Tuesday

Voters fill the stations as they cast their ballots at Precinct 01- 44, Millbrook Elementary School, in Raleigh on Nov. 5, 2014. All nine Wake County school board seats are on the Nov. 8, 2016 ballot.
Voters fill the stations as they cast their ballots at Precinct 01- 44, Millbrook Elementary School, in Raleigh on Nov. 5, 2014. All nine Wake County school board seats are on the Nov. 8, 2016 ballot. cseward@newsobserver.com

Nestled at the back of today’s crowded election ballots, Wake County voters will have their say on who should lead the state’s largest school system.

All nine school board seats are on the ballot, but only five races are contested. The election is not expected to result in major changes as there aren’t enough critics running to alter the board’s direction.

Before the votes are even counted, school board members Zora Felton, Christine Kushner and Jim Martin and former school board member Roxie Cash will be elected to two-year terms.

Go to http://bit.ly/2exFa6t for a quick synopsis of the positions of the candidates in the contested races.

In District 1, which includes northern and eastern Wake, voters will decide whether to reward school board Chairman Tom Benton with another term. Benton has had the benefit of a larger campaign war chest to be able to send out campaign mailers.

Benton’s endorsements include Wake NCAE, the Wake County Democratic Party and several area elected officials.

Of the other three District 1 candidates, Mary Beth Ainsworth and Sheila Ellis haven’t had much money to get out their messages. Donald Agee, who has been endorsed by the Wake County Republican Party, has had slightly more cash available

Unlike past elections, there will not be a run-off if a candidate fails to get a majority of the votes. That could potentially help a candidate like Benton who has name recognition with opposition split among multiple opponents.

In District 2, which mainly includes Garner, Willow Spring and parts of Fuquay-Varina, school board Vice Chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler is also hoping her name recognition will lead her to victory. Her endorsements include Wake NCAE and the Wake County Democratic Party.

Mark Ivey suspended his campaign to try to improve Peter Hochstaetter’s chances of defeating Johnson-Hostler. Hochstaetter’s endorsements include the Wake County GOP.

In District 4, school board member Keith Sutton is expected to handily defeat challenger Heather Elliott in a contest to represent Southeast Raleigh and parts of Knightdale and Garner. Elliott has not mounted any kind of campaign.

District 8, which includes much of southwest Wake, is the only contested race on the ballot where there is no incumbent running. School board member Susan Evans is running for a seat in the N.C. Senate.

Of the three District 8 candidates, Gary Lewis has had by far the most campaign money. He’s also being supported by some of the current school board members, including Kushner and Martin. Wake NCAE is also endorsing Lewis even though one of his opponents, Lindsay Mahaffey, is a teacher.

Gil Pagan is endorsed by the Wake County Republican Party.

In District 9, school board member Bill Fletcher has had a major fundraising edge over challenger Mike Tanbusch. Next to Sutton, Fletcher could have the easiest path to victory among the five contested races.

It’s been hard for school board candidates to get much attention this political season because of the national and state races on the ballot. This historically wasn’t an issue because school board elections used to be in odd-numbered years.

But when the General Assembly rewrote the school board election maps, legislators also moved the elections into even-numbered years. Even though federal judges ruled that the new state maps were unconstitutional and ordered the prior lines to be used, the school board elections were left on the November ballot.

Due to the heavy expected turnout for the races at the top of the ticket, all Wake County schools will be on two-hour delay Tuesday.