Politics & Government

Former state lawmaker wants to be a Wake school board member. No one else applied.

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

Former state Rep. Chris Heagarty is the only person who has applied to fill the vacant seat on the Wake County school board, but it’s no guarantee that he’ll be appointed to the position.

The District 7 seat representing northwest Raleigh, Morrisville and part of Cary has been vacant since board member Kathy Hartenstine died Sept. 23 while running unopposed for a two-year term. Board members had expected multiple candidates when they opened the application process three weeks ago, but Heagarty was the only person who met the Monday deadline in North Carolina’s largest school district.

Wake County school board member Kathy Hartenstine Courtesy of Kathy Hartenstine

School board chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler said in a text message Monday that the board will need to discuss what to do next. The board could interview Heagarty and decide whether to select him or could reopen the application process to see whether there are any additional candidates.

Board members had planned to interview applicants in December and to fill the position before Christmas.

The school board has filled several vacancies over the past decade because of deaths and resignations, but none of them had only one applicant. For instance, four people applied initially when Hartenstine was chosen in 2017 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of board member Zora Felton.

Heagarty, 48, could join the school board with a long history of political and public policy experience. Heagarty and former U.S. Senator Robert Morgan founded the N.C. Center for Voter Education in 1999, which merged with Common Cause North Carolina in 2014.

Heagarty, a Democrat, was appointed to the General Assembly in 2009 to fill a vacancy. He was defeated in 2010 as part of the election cycle that put Republicans in the majority in the state legislative.

Heagarty is currently director of the City of Oaks Foundation, a nonprofit conservation and youth development organization that works with the Raleigh’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department.

In his application, Heagarty noted that he’s a 40-year resident of Wake County, a PTA volunteer and a parent of two Wake County students. He’s also an attorney who lives in Raleigh.

“I am not an expert in pedagogical theory, nor do I hold the keys to unlocking the state legislature’s funding coffers,” Heagarty wrote in his application. “I can’t solve the basic social and economic problems that follow our students into the classroom.

“But as a parent committed to our public schools and as someone who has worked in the public policy arena, I am ready to work for better schools as a member of your team to address these problems.”

Applicants were asked to list three strategies they’d use to help meet the school board’s goal of raising the high school graduation rate to 95 percent by 2020. Heagarty listed expanding school counseling services, expanding a pilot program that identifies promising low-income students for access to academically gifted programs and making sure principals are paid based on their years of experience.

State lawmakers changed the way principals are paid to focus on a system that rewards principals based on student test scores. Several districts like Wake have used their local money to make sure principals are still paid based on factors such as education experience.

“If selected I will work to honor the legacy of the professional educators who came before me, and the parents and school volunteers who served before them,” Heagarty wrote.

The school board had gotten the option to fill the vacancy itself after the Wake County Board of Elections opted not to declare the candidate with the most write-in votes as the winner of the Nov. 6 election.

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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.