Wake Ed

Two Wake County school board members running for same seat

Boundaries for the Wake County school board District 1 seat adopted by the General Assembly in 2013.
Boundaries for the Wake County school board District 1 seat adopted by the General Assembly in 2013. Wake County Public School System

Wake County school board Chairman Tom Benton announced Thursday that he’s running for re-election, pitting him against fellow board member Monika Johnson-Hostler in a five-way fight for the District 1 seat.

In a video announcement, Benton said he’s proud of what has been accomplished since joining the board in 2013 such as higher teacher pay and the redesign of school academic programs in Eastern Wake. But Benton said “there’s still much left that needs to be done.”

“Much has been done to provide a quality education to EVERY student but much is left to be done to guarantee every child and every parent that you are going to receive the education your child needs and deserves regardless of where you live,” Benton said in a press release. “I believe that I am uniquely qualified based on my experiences as a teacher, principal, and leadership coach to schools seeking improvement and the accomplishments on the board during my present term.”

The District 1 race is the only one on the Nov. 8 ballot that is expected to see two incumbents running against each other. The 2013 redistricting plan adopted by the General Assembly put Benton, Johnson-Hostler and board member Kevin Hill in the same district.

Hill says he will not run against his fellow incumbents.

The new Wake County school board election maps are being challenged in federal court, but it’s unclear if a court ruling will come down before the candidate filing period ends at noon Friday.

In his press release, Benton cites the redrawing of the district lines and how the court case is still active with why he postponed making an announcement. Legislators redrew District 1 to now stretch from northwest Raleigh to eastern Wake and into Garner.

In addition to Benton and Johnson-Hostler, Donald Agee, Mary Beth Ainsworth and Sheila W. Ellis are also running in District 1. A candidate now only needs a plurality in November to win the election.

Benton’s only other election option would have been to run against incumbent board member Bill Fletcher for the District B regional seat created by state lawmakers that covers much of the suburbs. Benton has more of an advantage in District 1 because his core base of Eastern Wake support has more influence there than in District B.

Benton, 65, a Zebulon resident, has served as an education consultant helping schools around the state since he retired as principal of Durant Road Middle School in Raleigh in 2005.

Benton was appointed to the board in 2013 to fill the vacancy caused by Chris Malone resigning to take a seat in the state House. Benton won the District 1 seat outright in the 2013 fall election.

Benton has served as vice chairman for a year and was elected board chairman in December.

Benton described his tenure on the board as a time of “renewed focus on academic achievement and success for every student.” Benton cites the redesign of schools in Knightdale, Zebulon and Wendell and creation of the Elementary Support Model program to provide extra help to 12 high-needs schools.

Benton also points to recently approved plans for a joint elementary school/YMCA in Southeast Raleigh and a partnership with Wake Tech to create a career and technical education high school in Wake Forest

Benton stresses his advocacy for higher teacher and staff salaries that have been made possible by raises from the General Assembly and the Wake County Board of Commissioners.

“You can have the best programs and facilities in the world, but without a highly qualified teacher in the classroom and high quality staff providing the services necessary to provide safety and comforts, you will not have successful schools” Benton said.

Of the other candidates:

Agee is a retired Wake County school facilities department project manager who says he wants to change how the district builds and operates its schools.

Ainsworth is a business development representative who wants to improve special-education services following her son’s fight with the school district. Like Benton, Ainsworth also filed to run Thursday.

Ellis is a former Wake teacher turned insurance agent who says that her experience as both an educator and parent would benefit the school board.

Johnson-Hostler is a longtime advocate for victims of sexual abuse. The incumbent is running on a five-point platform: student achievement, community engagement, resource equity, teacher capacity, and parental involvement.

The school board is officially non-partisan but has a Democratic majority with only one Republican among its nine members. Benton and Johnson-Hostler are registered Democrats. Agee, Ainsworth and Ellis are registered Republicans.